NEWS

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February 6, 2007

Board: No Darfur divestment

The University will not divest from any company whose business has supported the ruling regime in Darfur, Sudan, according to a statement released late Friday by the office of president Robert Zimmer.

The statement announced the creation of a $200,000 fund that will support faculty and student work and activities on issues related to the Darfur conflict and international crises.

The announcement comes after months of negotiations between student activists, administrators, and the University Board of Trustees, and despite the highly visible lobbying efforts of Students Taking Action Now: Darfur (STAND).

In his statement, Zimmer said, “The Board [of Trustees] determined that it would not change its investment policy or its longstanding practice of not taking explicit positions on social and political issues that do not have a direct bearing on the University.”

Zimmer cited the University’s 1967 Kalven Report as the guiding force behind the Board’s decision.

The report, which was commissioned when the University was struggling to determine what action, if any, it should take in response to the Vietnam War, restricts the University from taking stances that could jeopardize its climate of free and balanced academic inquiry.

In this light, the “Board shared the widely held view that the University should seek to identify means to contribute to greater understanding of the conflict in Sudan in ways consonant with the University’s mission, with the hope of adding value to ongoing efforts to end this international crisis,” Zimmer’s statement said.

Members of the University’s chapter of STAND, which has been at the forefront of the campus divestment movement, have expressed extreme disappointment with what they characterize as the University’s decision to remain “complicit in genocide.”

In a response statement released Monday, STAND asked Zimmer to consider the goals of the Kalven Report and to question “what is the value of this free discourse held so sacred by the University, if it does not lead us to adopt a humane and moral view of the world?”

Much of STAND’s argument for divestment has centered on the Kalven Report’s “exceptional instance” clause, which allows the University to act as a corporate entity in cases in which a situation challenges the “paramount social values” generally accepted by the University.

John Hope Franklin, scholar and the sole surviving member of the Kalven Report’s drafting committee, delivered a statement this fall which stated that the genocide in Darfur should be counted as an exceptional instance.

“I am of the opinion that the desperate situation in Darfur is so tragic that it qualifies as the exceptional instance where I have no difficulty in concluding that divestment is consistent with the core values of our report and the mission of the University,” Franklin said in the statement.

By recognizing the Darfur crisis as such an instance, the University would be free to divest without compromising the principles set out in the report, STAND has argued.

“We believe that [Zimmer’s] use of the Kalven Report undermines its purpose, and we challenge the University to look at the report and ask itself, if this cause doesn’t count as an exceptional instance, what does?” said STAND cochair and second-year Aliza Levine.

“This is a clear abuse of the Kalven Report,” said STAND cochair and fourth-year Michael Pareles. “It was so clear that the report clearly spoke to our side. This was the kind of event that [the Kalven committee] had in mind when they created the document. [The administration] cheapened the document by using it as a shield to justify what amounts to their own prejudices. It’s a tragedy that they use the document only when it suits them because it’s an amazing document.”

Both Levine and Pareles added that Zimmer’s statement did not refer to the Darfur situation as a genocide, instead labeling it a crisis, atrocity, situation, or conflict interchangeably.

“That’s like saying that the Holocaust wasn’t a Holocaust, but that it was an ethnic cleansing, as if that’s OK,” Pareles said.

Because of its selective labeling, the University is not forced to recognize the crisis as an exceptional enough situation to require invoking the “exceptional instance” clause, thus justifying its decision not to divest, Pareles said.

But Vice President for Strategic Initiatives David Greene disagreed.

“We tried to point out the severity of the situation in general terms. Our focus wasn’t to define the situation as a genocide or not. Our focus was to address the University’s response,” Greene said.

Even if the administration had termed the Darfur crisis a genocide, “the response would not have changed,” he said. “If we were able to create some engagement to address the issue in Darfur, that’s the best contribution we can make.”

The establishment of the $200,000 fund will be used toward this end, Greene said.

The fund will be administered by Provost Thomas Rosenbaum, who will determine the money’s most effective use through discussions with faculty and students.

But the fund provides little satisfaction to the STAND representatives.

“It’s not the answer we were looking for, and it doesn’t end the University’s complicity in genocide. Only divestment could do that,” Levine said.

“We don’t scoff at research. It’s fine, but it will do nothing to stop the genocide that’s going on today,” Pareles said. “We knew that they were going to try to give some consolation prize. In this case it was the fund.”

In addition to offers of money, Pareles listed other “deal-making” proposals made by the administration, which included hosting a conference, supporting genocide research, and setting up a meeting between STAND representatives and U.S. Senators Barack Obama and Richard Durbin.

The assertion that the negotiations were attempts at deal-making is a complete mischaracterization, Greene said.

“We had a number of discussions about what we could do. We went through a number of scenarios, and the students from STAND were not interested in any of that. They said their only issue was divestment. It was up to them whether or not they could continue to work on parallel paths. We said, ‘If you want to, the door is open for that,’” Greene said.

While STAND does not expect the administration to reverse its decision, Pareles outlined the organization’s future goals as largely focused on disseminating information.

“We are going to do our best to make sure that everyone knows what the University has done…. STAND will continue to raise awareness to try and bring an end to genocide,” Pareles said.

A campus protest is scheduled for later in the week.