April 23, 2008

Letter: On divestment, University not part of solution

There were several important issues raised in Ryan McCarl’s Viewpoints pieces (“Bad Council,” 4/15/08) regarding the City Council resolution denouncing the University for its refusal to divest from companies doing business with the Sudanese government that should be addressed.

My experience has not been that most people in the University community have “moved on.” In fact, the vast majority of students and faculty are just becoming aware. The University has already made its decision, but when socially irresponsible decisions are made there is more motivation for people to mobilize. The resolution and the resulting media coverage have not “re-opened old wounds,” but have breathed new life into the movement as indicated by increased attendance at STAND meetings. This and the fact that the resolution demonstrates that the University’s corporate activities are in clear contrast to paramount political values as mentioned as the exception in the Kalven report, are among many reasons why the resolution is significant.

The University’s argument that divestment will not make a difference is fundamentally flawed. Isn’t it better to be part of the solution than part of the problem? Divestment is effective when numerous individuals and institutions take action. That is why several schools, including Harvard and Yale, 23 states, and presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have all divested. Additionally, the federal government has divested its pension funds and has passed several key pieces of legislation that prohibit companies with government contracts from doing business in Sudan (H.R. 180 & S. 2271). It is also why economists like Senior Advisor to the Brookings Institute Roberta Cohen and the U.N. Human Rights Council endorse targeted divestment strategies.

Finally, the characterization of the resolution as being self-congratulatory for the activists and being the result of a slow day at City Council is difficult to understand. Is taking a political stance against a University that bears the name of the city they represent any less important than voting on zoning ordinances? Given that it is in the interests of the University to maintain positive relations with the city, maybe they felt they could encourage the University to reconsider its position. I think the Council members should be applauded for taking time out from their busy schedules to address this issue of corporate malfeasance. Nobody is excited about this situation and there is a realization that this resolution is a small step forward in what promises to be a larger campaign.

Robert Elchert

Second-year in the School of Social Service Administration (SSA)