Students gathered Wednesday at SG’s open forum to discuss the Kalven report, the University’s long-standing document outlining its stance as a politically and socially neutral institution. In the 50 years since its publication, the Kalven report has not been the “point of departure” it asserts itself to be, but rather has been cited by the University to justify investment in businesses working in Sudan and apartheid South Africa, among other actions. Given its checkered past, the University is past due for a serious reevaluation of the document’s effectiveness. Along these lines, it is crucial that it looks inward to address the critical political and social issues that arise in the course of its decision making as a corporate entity.
The Kalven report’s statements regarding the absolute protection of individual freedom of speech are laudable; the University should not be free to presume that students or faculty members adhere to its implied stance on any political or social issue. That said, the University cannot simply use the report as a means to disregard all consequences of its investments under the guise of neutrality. The Kalven report states that there are “exceptional instance[s]” where University corporate actions, including investments, may “appear so incompatible with paramount social values as to require careful assessment of the consequences,” but makes no attempt to define what those instances are. If the University does not deem genocide in Darfur “incompatible with paramount social values,” it is clear that its current rubric needs work. The community can help to ensure this exception to the report is not a fiction in practice.
Although getting community input is not the simplest task, it is imperative that this be an inclusive process. Because the Kalven report is supposed to protect faculty views, it would be in the University’s best interest to engage faculty in serious dialogue on the relationship between decisions made by the University in its corporate capacity and their effect on the academic sphere. The bi-quarterly Council of the University Senate meetings would be an opportune time to do this.
Along those same lines, students, as an integral part of the University and future donors to its endowment, also have a right to be heard. Student-run committees such as the proposed Socially Responsible Investment Committee (SRIC), which was approved by referendum last year but dismissed by administrators, would be the ideal way to incorporate student input into the University decision making process. They would provide a forum for communication regarding current controversial issues, such as investments in Arch Coal, Inc. and HEI Hotels.
The debates that would result from these measures would go a long way to foster the kind of discourse the Kalven report was created to defend. Ultimately, the University must recognize that political neutrality is an impossibility; all of its decisions have a political dimension. Administrators must accordingly alter the procedure for determining instances in which its corporate activities are incompatible with fundamental social values of its community.
The Editorial Board consists of the Editor-in-Chief, Viewpoints Editors, and an additional Editorial Board member.