Protestors Rally Against University of Chicago Policy Not to Divest in Sudan

Activists, led by U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D.-Ill., gathered outside the University of Chicago Business School last week to protest the school’s refusal to divest from companies doing business in the African nation of Sudan.

The congressman, representing Illinois’ 1st district, demanded to know why the university has not divested from corporations doing business with Darfur, “even as the Khartoum government is enabling, and by many reports supporting, the Janjaweed in their efforts to … kill millions of innocent African villagers and take their land.

“What kind of example is the university setting by passively remaining neutral at a time when hundreds of thousands are being displaced and killed?” Rush said. “What message is the school sending to the students of its business school about morality and ethics, when the administration and the board of trustees say that they are sorry for the genocide but that the school does not get involved in political decisions?”

University spokesman Larry Arbeiter says the decision not to divest is rooted in a committee report called “Report on the University’s Role in Political and Social Action” of 1967.  

“The university exists in order to do research and teach and to be critics of society,” says Arbeiter. “But the university itself is not a critic.”

As the report says, “the instrument of dissent and criticism is the individual faculty member or the individual student. The university … is a community of scholars … it is not a club, it is not a trade association, it is not a lobby.”

The report goes on to state that a collective position would come “at the price of censuring any minority who do not agree with the view adopted.”

The policy has been in place since the Vietnam War, remaining unchanged through the United States’ involvement in Kosovo and both Gulf Wars. However, the humanitarian crisis in Darfur prompted trustees to establish the Darfur Action and Education Fund in February. With a fund of $200,000 the school has invited proposals  from faculty members or students to promote education or other humanitarian aid. The first grant of $100,000 will be granted this summer. This is the first time the university has responded to such a call in this way, says Arbeiter.

“I don’t know of any other schools that have established this,” he says. “We feel this is an appropriate response.”

Rush, however, says he will continue to work to persuade the university “to do the right thing and divest completely from the Sudan, and from companies doing business with the Sudan.”

To date, over 400,000 people have died as a result of the genocide in Sudan and 2.5 million have been internally displaced, according to the United Human Rights Council.

Last month, the Bush administration announced new sanctions against the country, aimed specifically at oil companies run by the Sudanese government.

The Divest Sudan campaign started in 2004 with a group of Harvard University students who discovered investments made by the university in companies operating in Sudan. Although the figures can be less than 1 percent of a university’s overall portfolio, other schools, including the entire University of California system, have joined the movement to stop investing in Darfur. In March, Howard University became the first historically Black college or university to divest in Sudan.

By Shilpa Banerji

 

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