February 13, 2007

STAND protests Board’s decision against divestment

[img id="80157" align="alignleft"] Activists in support of University divestment from Sudan took their message directly to President Robert Zimmer Thursday afternoon, holding a protest and descending on Zimmer’s open forum meeting with students in the Reynolds Club.

Members and supporters of the U of C chapter of Students Taking Action Now: Darfur (STAND), the student group leading the divestment campaign, gathered on the main quadrangles in frigid temperatures to show their solidarity before walking to the McCormick Tribune Lounge for the open forum meeting. The event took place less than a week after the Board of Trustees announced the University would not divest.

An initial crowd of about 40 people steadily grew as second-year and STAND co-president Aliza Levine led group chants such as “UChicago, you can’t hide, you’re supporting genocide” and “Amorality, immorality, for Darfur it’s all the same.”

In a speech to the group, Levine said that after nine months of deliberation, “49 trustees have decided that the entire University community remain complicit in genocide” by not divesting the U of C from Sudan.

“We call upon the University to answer what instance will challenge our ‘paramount social values’ if genocide does not,” she said, referring to a clause in the Kalven Report, the document that has outlined the U of C’s role in social and political action since 1967. The Kalven Report enables the University to change corporate activities if they are deemed incompatible with certain “paramount social values.”

“President Zimmer was quoted in the [Chicago] Tribune today saying, ‘Our position is that for the long run, the great contribution we make to the political landscape is to provide this umbrella of open, free inquiry.’ This university has created an umbrella that lets us hide from our moral obligations,” Levine said, adding that the University cannot “continue to hide behind academic freedom.”

As part of a mock question-and-answer session with the crowd, fourth-year and STAND co-president Mike Pareles told supporters that the administration has excluded them from the decision-making process regarding Sudan.

“Instead of engaging us, they’ve once again shut the door,” Pareles said. “The University has gone from perhaps inactive during the decision making process to actively supporting the genocide.”

Pareles said STAND appreciated the Board’s creation of a $200,000 fund supporting student and faculty work on Darfur-related issues, but that the fund “will do nothing to affect the genocide that’s happening today.”

The activists filled McCormick Lounge to maximum capacity during the open forum attended by students across the University. While Zimmer gave a half-hour–long presentation on the University’s strategic initiatives, divestment activists held up signs with messages such as “My University supports genocide” and “The U of C doesn’t care about black people.”

STAND activists dominated the question-and-answer session with questions aimed at evoking and scrutinizing the Board’s rationale for divestment.

“There is a divergence of opinion about this subject on our campus,” Zimmer said. “There are natural tensions.”

Zimmer added that there was “no real agreement” about the results of divestment for the University.

“For most people, the issue was the level of efficacy for the act,” he said.

Fielding several personal attacks regarding divestment, Zimmer emphasized that the decision not to divest ultimately came from the Board of Trustees. “I’m really representing here the Board of Trustees and the input they got from the faculty,” he said.

Before concluding the forum, in which other students also raised issues such as health care for graduate students and increased sustainability and diversity, Zimmer encouraged divestment activists “to see that there are arguments on the other side.”