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Yes to Sudan Investment, U of Chicago Says

Here in the United States, while many elite universities such as Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and the University of California system have divested their holdings in companies doing business in Sudan, the University of Chicago has refused to divest. The Board of Trustees announced recently that it would not change its investment policies. Meanwhile, the group Students Taking Action Now Darfur (STAND) has accused the university of complicity in genocide.

Larry Arbeiter is director of university communications. He said the university’s refusal to divest is based on a long-standing policy as articulated in the 1967 Kalven Report.

“As the Kalven Report says and as the University has believed ever since, there is what they referred to as a heavy presumption against taking political or social action collectively. The reason for that is, as the Kalven Report states, the university is the home and sponsor of critics - that is, individual faculty members and individual students. It is not itself a critic,” he said.

Arbeiter said for generations the university has served as a venue for its faculty members and students to research, analyze, and teach the important issues of the day, including political and social issues. But he said the university itself should not take a political stance.

Arbeiter rejected criticism that by refusing to divest its holdings in companies doing business in Sudan the University of Chicago was aiding and abetting genocide in Darfur.

“I certainly hope not, and if anyone would suggest that, I would urge them to recognize that in fact the university took quite a significant step here in a way that may be unprecedented here, and that is while the Trustees believe that we should continue to follow our policy of not taking collective political stance through divestment or similar action, the University is free to support research and teaching,” he said.

Arbeiter said university President Robert Zimmer has announced last week a $200,000 fund to support faculty members and students to study, analyze, and argue about the situation in Sudan and other closely related human rights issues.

The group – Students Taking Action Now Darfur (STAND) has accused the university of complicity in genocide. Co-chair Michael Pareles told VOA the University of Chicago should have revised its policy because of what he called the horrible human suffering in Darfur.

“We engaged the university from the beginning of this campaign on the basis that the genocide in Darfur was so horrible and such an affront to those social values that it met the threshold of the exclusion clause. And yet the Board of Trustees still said that they didn’t think that genocide met the exceptional clause threshold as an event that went against the paramount social values of the university,” he said.

Pareles said the decision could isolate the University of Chicago because by refusing to divest in Sudan, the university has set a precedent for other institutions seeking to justify their complicity in genocide.