May 1, 2007

We cannot tolerate UCCID's tactics

Proponents of divestment are now causing sufficient damage to the University to merit the reproach of all students, faculty, and administrators. While earlier in the year pro-divestment groups used dialogue to seek change, they have now turned to pure coercion and obstruction—not to mention illegal acts—in an attempt to force the University to take actions it has decided are not in its best interest. While previously it was possible for the majority of the University community that does not particularly care about divestment to ignore its proponents, such complacency is no longer possible. We must actively oppose both the University of Chicago Coalition for Immediate Divestment (UCCID) and Students Taking Action Now: Darfur (STAND).

Promotional materials distributed by the UCCID make its aims frighteningly transparent: “We don’t want business as usual to continue at this University.” The group’s president, Miranda Nelson, has been quoted as saying: “We do not want [University administrators] to be able to go about their daily lives until they listen to us.” So far, the UCCID is following through on its word. Members of the group have heckled and harassed numerous University officials, including President Robert Zimmer, inside their own offices.

Members of the Coalition have cited no justification for their actions other than their oft-repeated mantra that the University is not listening to them. One UCCID member, Daniel Benjamin, has said, “We wanted to press and to embarrass the University because [we believe] they have ignored the student body in their decision [to not divest].”

Yet for all of UCCID’s clamoring about being “listened to,” it has never once outlined exactly what it wants from the administration and the Board of Trustees. If the consideration that the University gave to divestment the first time around was not “listening,” then what will satisfy UCCID’s demands? The group does not appear to recognize the difference between procedure and substance; unhappy with the substance of the University’s decision, UCCID’s members slander the procedure by which that decision was made and never once outline a procedure that the University could follow that would satisfy them, regardless of the substantive decision at the end. Without publicly committing to such a procedure, UCCID’s claims to legitimacy are hollow at best.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated error on the part of pro-divestment groups. Their entire campaign has been marked by a singular lack of attention to the most basic questions logically necessary for their case to have any merit. Neither UCCID nor STAND has ever demonstrated that the majority of the student body supports divestment. Neither group has attempted to calculate the cost of divestment to the University. Most damningly, neither group has said how many lives would be saved by the University’s divestment. I suspect this is because neither group has the first clue.

Groups advocating a change in University policy must provide sufficient information for the University community to make an informed decision, and they must respect that even when the University considers their arguments, it may not come to see things exactly the same way that they do. Divestment proponents have done neither. STAND and UCCID claim that students want divestment, but I wonder how students can even have a position on the issue given that they know neither the costs nor the benefits of divestment.

At the heart of the issue is UCCID’s notion of its purpose as an advocate of policy change. UCCID seems to think that its purpose is to achieve divestment. But given the institutional setting of the University, the real burden of the group is to convince a significant portion of the University that divestment is a wise decision, so that the University as a whole can decide whether to divest or not. To push for divestment without this crucial precondition is to debase and devalue the opinions of the entire University community.

The dialogue that first STAND and now UCCID have created over Darfur has convinced only a minority of students—and most likely an even smaller portion of administrators and Board members—that divestment is a wise decision. Given this, UCCID’s turn to coercion, force, and pure obstructionism is wholly unjustified, and must not be tolerated.