October 24, 2006

STAND pressures admin to divest from Darfur

Student activists working to end the genocide in Darfur came closer to convincing top administrators to divest University assets from companies that do business in Sudan at a meeting on October 19.

At the meeting, third-years Lauren Goldenberg and Rebecca Shi, fourth-year Mike Pareles, and third-year economics Ph.D candidate Sally Sadoff presented their case for divestment to President Robert Zimmer, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives David A. Greene, Vice President for Community and Government Affairs Hank Webber, and Assistant Vice President for Student Life in the University and Associate Dean of the College Bill Michel.

This is the second time that activists—members of the U of C chapter of Students Taking Action Now in Darfur (STAND)—have met with administrators to discuss divestment. The first meeting was held last June.

The administration will deliberate on the issue this week. On Wednesday, University officials will either approve or reject STAND’s request to meet with the Board of Trustees, the governing body that will make the ultimate decision. The activists are pushing for an emergency meeting of the Board within two weeks, but the Board may decide to delay discussions until its annual meeting.

“The [Thursday] meeting allowed for a much fuller discussion of principles that have guided the University for many decades,” Greene said. “We concluded the meeting by recognizing that the issues on the table deserved further consideration. We agreed to be in touch with the students this week to talk about how to continue these deliberations.”

Shi and Pareles said administrators are focused on being consistent with University policy and the 1967 Kalven Report and are not concerned with monetary issues.

The Kalven Report, which outlines the “University’s Role in Political and Social Action,” was written in response to student protests during the Vietnam War. It upholds the University’s mission as an educational institution and holds that all corporate decisions must have educational priorities in mind.

The STAND members are arguing that the genocide in Darfur is such an exceptional event that the University must take action as a corporate body.

“In order to stay consistent to this commitment, the University would have to commit to life,” Pareles said. “Right now, in Sudan, that’s what’s being destroyed—the foundations of life, the knowledge of a people—so when those people are being killed, how can you assert a commitment to everything that [the University] holds to be true when you’re clearly violating that by not taking a stance?”

The U of C’s decision could have significant impact nationwide, proponents of divestment argue. They cite the recent decision to divest by the State of California, which used the universities of California as a model for targeted divestment.

The U of C could convince other institutions and cities, most notably Chicago, to divest if it leads the way, the activists argue.

Greene said administrators at the meeting tried to find equivalent alternatives to divestment. He did not name any alternatives, however, and the activists remain firm in their belief that targeted divestment is the best way to have an impact on the Sudanese government.

Student activists also presented administrators with a petition calling for divestment signed by 1,030 supporters, along with a letter signed by many campus ministers and religious leaders.

The petition had the signatures of undergraduate and graduate students from every University division.

The letter was signed by Rabbi Yossi Brackman of Chabad; Rev. Ann Marie Coleman, senior minister of University Church; Jonathan Corbett, campus minister for Intervarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship; Dan Libenson, executive director of Newberger Hillel Center; Sam Park, campus minister with Asian American Intervarsity Christian Fellowship; Father Patrick Rugen, chaplain of Calvert House; Joel Selking, campus minister with Intervarsity Christian Fellowship; and Mark Washington, campus minister with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship MBA Ministry.