May 4, 2007

Genocide, divestment too urgent to ignore

Divestment groups will no longer sit quietly and hope for their voices to be heard. The Coalition for Immediate Divestment (CID) was formed for exactly the purpose its name describes. Genocide is an immediate problem and divestment is an immediate action that the University can take to help stop it. Both CID and Students Taking Action Now: Darfur (STAND) believe that the University of Chicago has made an embarrassing mistake by choosing not to divest. As members of this community, we will work to reverse this decision and take actions that will stop the genocide in Darfur.

In a Maroon op-ed (“We Cannot Tolerate UCCID’s Tactics,” 5/01/07), Reynold Strossen claims that the University has listened to us, but that we simply did not like its ultimate decision. The reality is that the University has repeatedly and consistently ignored student input on this issue. During the campaign to divest from South Africa, the Board of Trustees met with a joint student-faculty delegation to discuss the problem. A similar request made by STAND was flat-out ignored. When countless letters received no response, students took matters into their own hands and personally delivered individually addressed envelopes to each trustee at their quarterly meeting in March. There was not a single reply. These events are examples of a culture of closed-mindedness that permeates the administration and influences the trustees. At a rally this past Sunday, a livid Congressman Bobby Rush spoke of how the University ignored his request for an explanation of the divestment decision. If this is the way the University treats a member of Congress, is it any surprise that students have been handled with such disdain?

The University’s refusal to listen has made CID’s more aggressive tactics necessary. This situation could easily have been averted. STAND has tried repeatedly to reach out in dialogue, but the administration and trustees have chosen instead to ignore not only students, but also community leaders such as Rush. Frankly, the decision has been embarrassing for the U of C. Strossen’s repeated claim that a majority of students do not support divestment has no factual basis. The reality is that over 1,000 students and 100 faculty members have signed a petition calling on the University to divest. Our actions are designed to raise the issue of divestment at every opportunity in order to shame the University into doing the right thing.

Divestment will have an effect; it is not some obscure, untested tactic. As much as 80 percent of the money Sudan makes off foreign investments is funneled into the military. Targeted divestment places economic pressure on the Sudanese government to stop killing innocent civilians. Strossen alleges that neither STAND nor CID “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.” It is ethically despicable to be concerned with the financial cost of divestment for a privileged private institution; the human cost of genocide is the issue. Additionally, CID and STAND have been unable to make claims about the direct impact divestment could have in Darfur because the University refuses to release detailed investment information to the students. This is one more example of the secretive manner in which the divestment decision was made. It should be noted, however that if the University provides the Sudanese military with enough money for one day’s action, it will have sanctioned the deaths of 274 people.

It is sad that Strossen’s efforts in this campaign have been directed at the people trying to end genocide rather than at ending the genocide itself. His time and energy could be used in a much more constructive manner. CID’s change to more direct and conspicuous action is both justifiable and necessary. Divestment has substantial support among students, faculty, and the community. CID will continue to press for immediate divestment at every opportunity.