Finding being secretive and important too time-consuming, the University of Chicago Board of Trustees recently sent Punching Bag, er, President Robert Zimmer, to answer questions about the Board’s decision not to divest from Sudan. Predictably, the nattering nabobs of negativity that make up this campus spent most of the forum criticizing the President and the Board for not divesting. It is difficult to disagree with the Board’s conclusion about divestment, however. It’s just not efficacious, President Zimmer repeatedly stated. Indeed, one is in fact hard-pressed to think of anything less efficacious than a prestigious, influential university making a public and extremely topical political decision, particularly if it were well publicized. In making his case, however, Zimmer made the mistake of focusing only onthe downsides of divestment, when he should have been making a strong case for investment. To help him in the future, I have come up with a few talking points to allow him and the Board to further justify the decision:
Zimmer, as noted, already offered the first major upside to genocide investment in his address to the student body. As he pointed out, no one on the board supports genocide, but divestment simply wouldn’t be efficacious. To divest would be to needlessly lose money without making a real difference. I say, why stop there? Let’s take the Board’s logic one step further. Surely there are a lot of other genocidally maniacal regimes that we can make a few bucks off of. Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe compares himself to Hitler, the regime in Pyongyang may be the worst in the world, and dictators such as Than Shwe of Burma completely oppress their people. While the pessimists in the human rights crowd would label these countries hotspots of despotism, why not see them as they truly are: hotspots for investment. Furthermore, by establishing a standard in which indirectly investing in genocide is acceptable, the University opens itself up to all sorts of financial opportunities that seem uncontroversial in comparison, like directly investing in regimes not actively committing genocide. Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can all become worthy recipients of our money due to the Board of Trustees’ foresighted decision. Maybe we can even use the funds we get in return to buy a few more buses and fix our campus transportation system.
Second, as Zimmer also pointed out, the University making a political stance may adversely affect the freedom of research on campus. Indeed, one shudders to think of the perils iconoclastic young professors might face if employed at a university that had an anti-genocide policy. We would be shutting our doors to many forms of exciting research. For example, as the recent conference in Tehran has proven, Holocaust denial is a burgeoning field that we can now take full advantage of. By bravely standing in defense of absolute academic freedom, the University will now be perched to welcome otherwise scorned scholars. Since the Board of Trustees has declared their idea of academic independence more important than taking a stance against ongoing genocide, perhaps we can finally pass our dreaded East Coast competitors in becoming a leading research center for regime apology and gross historical revisionism. Not only will it improve our rankings, but it may even increase our applicant pool. David Duke for tenure, anyone?
Finally, and most importantly, the Board of Trustees’ decision against divestment will allow for many future inspirational moments. I mean, everyone loves the Hotel Rwanda guy. He wrote a book, there was a movie made about his life, he even came to campus to speak. We can’t get enough of him! By reinforcing a general nationwide unwillingness to stop this genocide, the Board has allowed a great opportunity for a particularly inspirational Darfuri survivor to surface in about five years. We’ll get another bestselling book, another hit movie (perhaps Don Cheadle can get his Oscar this time around), and maybe he’ll even come to campus so we can all nod solemnly while he speaks.
And so, while many of you may feel bad about the hundreds of thousands who are dying in the genocide in Sudan, look on the bright side. The Board of Trustees is pretty torn up about it, too. They just happened to see all of the positives that can come out of a brave stance in support of genocide. So remember: Don’t get caught up in downsides and divestment when there are so many upsides to investment!