May 18, 2007

Darfur fund evaluates first set of picks

The committee charged with determining the distribution of the $200,000 Darfur Action and Education Fund is preparing to announce the winners of the first round of fund proposals in the coming days.

The decision will mark the first of several allocations by the University intended to promote academic approaches to the conflict in Darfur, Sudan. The fund, announced in February, was established by President Robert Zimmer and Board of Trustees Chairman James Crown in response to calls for divestment from Darfur. Until recently, divestment was the singular demand of campus groups Students Taking Action Now: Darfur (STAND) and the Coalition for Immediate Divestment (CID).

The committee received fewer than 10 first-round proposals. It is not known whether all of the proposals will receive funding. According to the fund’s website, proposals can request between $500 and $25,000, and the fund must be exhausted by 2009.

Committee members would not discuss specifics about the proposals.

The second-round deadline for proposals was Monday, but the committee has not yet met to discuss them, said member Sally Sadoff, a student in the Graduate School of Business.

STAND, whose members initially saw the fund as a poor alternative to divestment, will submit a proposal to use a portion of the money during the autumn quarter, said STAND chair and fund committee member Aliza Levine.

According to Levine, STAND’s proposal includes itemized, direct contributions to various non-governmental organizations in Darfur. If the committee accepts STAND’s proposal, the money would fund the purchase of items like tents and mosquito nets for refugees of the war-torn region.

Levine is unsure whether the proposal will be approved. “I bet it will inspire a lot of debate,” she said. The fund’s mission statement, chiefly educational, does not indicate that the money can be used to directly fund conflict relief.

Three of the six funding committee members have publicly supported STAND’s divestment efforts by signing its petition, raising the question of whether their stance will pose a conflict of interest as the committee considers STAND’s proposal. Those members include Levine, Divinity School professor W. Clark Gilpin, and Human Rights Program director Susan Gzesh.

Third-year committee member Daniel Kimerling has said that he did “not want to go on the record about the Darfur situation.” His name does not appear on STAND’s online petition—nor do the names of the final two funding committee members, Sadoff and Deputy Provost for Research Keith Moffat.

According to Levine, the committee has rules dictating possible conflicts of interest. Committee members who may have such a conflict “can be present during the discussion of the proposal, but not the deliberations concerning whether to fund it,” she said. So far, “the committee has come to a pretty strong consensus [on most of the proposals].”

The debate over fund allocations may hinge on how committee members perceive the University’s role in the Darfur conflict. In a phone interview, Gzesh explained that the University can be seen as both “an academic institution” and “a corporate actor.”

The fund addresses the academic side but not the corporate side, she said. “I think that the fund is a very good idea for providing education on campus and for supporting research relevant to these issues, but it’s not the same as divesting, so I see those as separate questions,” Gzesh said.

But University administrators disagree with Gzesh’s distinction. “In my view, the University should be taking actions that first and foremost are actions that it takes as an academic institution,” said David Greene, vice president for Strategic Initiatives. “Trying to separate those out, for me, is hard to do.”

“I think that the trustees have made their decision on this issue,” Greene added, reinforcing the administration’s position that the Darfur divestment question will not be reopened.

The U of C divestment movement appears to have split into two camps. The recently founded CID aims to apply continued pressure on the University to divest, while STAND’s recent tactics have shifted to focus on education.

Thursday, Former STAND co-chair and current CID member Michael Pareles forwarded information about Senator Barack Obama’s stance on divestment and an article detailing the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s decision to divest to President Zimmer, Greene, and others.

Greene said he sees an “ability for there to be a wide range of opinions expressed without a sort of consistent dogma that seems to pervade some university campuses.... I think that’s something very valuable and worth protecting.”