The University of California’s Board of Regents voted to divest from companies tied to the government of Sudan on Thursday, making the UC system the first public university to join Yale and several other private institutions in excluding such companies from its portfolio — if state lawmakers approve.

Before the 18-month divestment process begins, the California state legislature must vote to back the board’s decision. But Board of Regents Chairman Gerald Parsky said in a press release that the university’s move is an important symbolic step.

“The University of California has taken a principled stand against the tragedy in Sudan by severing its financial connections from those nine companies who aid the genocide and by lending its voice to those calling for peace in the region,” Parsky said.

In the press release, UC officials said the nine companies cited on their blacklist account for only a small fraction of the university’s assets. Still, activists at Yale said the divestiture — which will apply to a $66 billion endowment for 10 campuses — is a major victory.

Eric Bloom ’08, Yale’s co-coordinator for the group Students Taking Action Now: Darfur, said activists faced bureaucratic hurdles in convincing UC to divest.

“To pull together an entire state is pretty remarkable because it’s the first public institution in higher learning that’s done this,” he said.

The decision is particularly significant because UC’s blacklist includes index funds that only tie UC’s money to the Sudanese government indirectly, STAND co-coordinator Lauren Jacobson ’08 said.

In February, Yale announced it will exclude seven companies tied to Sudan from its portfolio. Harvard, Brown and Stanford universities, as well as Amherst and Dartmouth colleges, have made similar pledges. Only four of the nine companies on UC’s list match those on Yale’s.

The states of Illinois, New Jersey and Oregon have also divested their pension funds of ties to Sudan. A similar proposal was approved by Connecticut’s General Administration and Elections Committee, Jacobson said, bringing the state a step closer to a legislative vote.

The companies named on UC’s blacklist are Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd., China Petroleum and Chemical Corp. (Sinopec), Nam Fatt Co. Bhd., Oil & Natural Gas Co. Ltd., PECD Bhd., PetroChina Company Ltd., Sudan Telecom Co. Ltd. (Sudatel), Tatneft OAO, and Videocon Industries Ltd. The university sent letters of concern to four additional companies.