NEWS

  /  

May 23, 2006

Students, administrators meet over Darfur policy

Student activists representing a coalition of social justice Registered Student Organizations (RSOs) recently met with administrators to propose that the University divest from companies considered complicit in the genocide in Sudan.

Administrators confirmed last month that the University holds equity in companies that support the Sudanese government.

The meeting with Steve Klass, vice president and dean of students, Bill Michel, assistant vice president for student life, and Wallace Goode, director of the University Community Service Center, is the first official dialogue between the divestment campaign and the University administration.

Both administrators and students were pleased with the discussion, which Klass said “modeled the kind of effective and strategic student activism that one finds on this campus more often than not.”

The meeting gave the three student activists, Anyu Fang, a fourth-year in the College, Rebecca Shi, a second-year in the College, and Sally Sagoff, a graduate student in the economics department, an opportunity to discuss with the University the genocide in Sudan and how divestment can be used to combat it.

The proposed divestment model, a two-page document created by the national Sudan Divestment Taskforce to aid institutions and states in divestment, recently guided The Regents, which governs the University of California-, in declaring its $66 billion endowment divested from Sudan.

The model calls for the University to divest itself from companies which have “demonstrated complicity in the Darfur genocide” by providing revenue or arms and supplies to the Sudanese government and its affiliated militias. Companies that are “clearly dedicated to [the] social development of the whole country” are excluded from divestment in the model.

According to the students, Klass said the University does not have a history of divestment or social action on this scale.

Since 1967, the University has been guided by the principles of the Kalven Report, a statement “on the University’s Role in Social and Political Action.” The report concludes that the University should be neutral in social and political issues, “out of respect for free inquiry and the obligation to cherish a diversity of viewpoints.”

Fang, a leader of the divestment coalition, said, “We are very aware of the University’s history, and we believe in the Kalven Report.”

Fang said a clause in the Kalven Report allows administrators to make social and political decisions about University investments in exceptional cases.

According to the clause, the University can alter “corporate activities” if they “appear so incompatible with paramount social values as to require careful assessment of the consequences.”

Shi, who is also a leader of the coalition, said, “The University cannot remain neutral with events that are contrary to ‘paramount social values.’ We believe that genocide threatens paramount social values.”

Fang said the U of C can divest and still maintain academic freedom.

“This is an instance of exception,” Fang said. “When you look at the definition of genocide…it destroys the possibility of a social sphere. [Divestment] is entirely consistent with the intellectual climate of the University.”

Both parties said they are looking forward to a continuing dialogue. Klass said he intends to organize a meeting with more “senior administrators” to discuss the students’ recommendations in greater detail.

The students represented the campus RSOs The Giving Tree, Students for Human Rights, Amnesty International, Students for Global Public Health, and the Roosevelt Institute.