The University of Chicago’s controversial decision not to divest from Sudan on Friday drew the ire of activists at Yale, where administrators a year ago helped spearhead a nationwide divestiture movement.
The Board of Trustees at Chicago released a four-page memorandum stating that the university would not divest from multinational corporations doing business with the Sudanese government. According to the statement, Chicago does not find the situation in Sudan severe enough to meet the standards for divestment laid out in the university’s Kelvan Report — a document drafted in the 1970s that dictates that the institution will not take social or political stances unless the situation is “incompatible with paramount social values” of the university.
Chicago’s approach is a sharp departure from that of Yale and a number of other leading universities, which have protested the genocide taking place in Darfur by selling their shares in companies tied to the Sudanese government.
President of the University of Chicago Robert Zimmer said the decision followed thorough consultation with students and faculty.
“After lengthy discussions on this topic, the Board determined that it would not change its investment policy or its longstanding practice of not taking explicit positions on social and political issues that do not have a direct bearing on the University,” he said in the statement.
Chicago’s decision not to divest from Sudan is controversial because it is the first elite university to choose explicitly not to divest, said Mike Pareles, co-chair of Chicago’s chapter of Students Taking Action Now: Darfur (STAND). Harvard, Stanford and Yale were among the first universities to divest from Sudan. Yale’s pledge followed months of campus protests.
“The university is doing worse than nothing,” Pareles said. “Now they have for the first time articulated in moral terms why it is permissible for universities and companies to remain invested in genocide.”
Chicago administrators were not available for comment on Tuesday.
In the 1980s, Chicago also chose not to divest from South Africa at a time when many universities — including Yale — were doing so to protest the apartheid regime. The Kelvan Report, which was drafted in response to the Vietnam War, restricts the university from taking social or political stances in order to protect intellectual freedom of the individual.
When Yale divested from Sudan last year, students fell on both sides of the issue. While many people supported divestment on grounds of human rights, there were also those who opposed it because they felt that the university should focus on investment efficiently and should stay out of international and political issues.
Eric Bloom, a former co-chair for Yale’s chapter of STAND, said the arguments for and against divestment were likely to be the same across campuses.
“The activists will be outraged, but many investment-minded people would say this is the university’s policy and they’re operating exactly how they intend to, and that they shouldn’t have to bend for one particular political issue,” he said.
Lauren Jacobson ’08, another former co-chair of Yale’s STAND chapter, said she is deeply disappointed with Chicago’s decision not to divest. The choice is “morally appalling,” she said, considering the atrocities in Darfur and the university’s opportunity to make an impact beyond the bounds of its own institution.
“When Yale divested last year, that spread across the country and around the world,” Jacobson said. “It gets people talking about what’s going on in Darfur and puts pressure on companies doing business in Sudan and ultimately the government.”
Pareles said students at Chicago will mobilize later this week to protest the Board of Trustees’ decision.