Over the last several years dozens of states and universities, and a handful of cities, have decided to drop all their investments tied to Sudan as a protest against its genocidal campaign in the Darfur region. Among those who’ve pledged to divest are the state of Illinois, the University of Illinois, and Northwestern University.
Not the University of Chicago. The school’s administration has determined that divesting would be akin to making a political statement that could have a “chilling effect” on its mission of creating an environment of completely free and open intellectual inquiry.
And not the city of Chicago. No city officials seem to have given it much thought.
On Thursday, a handful of aldermen on the City Council’s Human Relations Committee conducted a 90-minute public scolding of the school for refusing to divest. But they didn’t say a thing about the city’s own possible ties to Sudan.
“I don’t see how the University of Chicago can take a position of genocide,” said 26th Ward alderman Billy Ocasio, the committee's chair. “I mean, we have someone I don’t admire at all—even President Bush has condemned it.”
The City Council has waded into the U. of C.’s response to the Darfur crisis at the prompting of
Second Third Ward alderman Pat Dowell, who used to teach and work at the school. She says she was moved and concerned when a group of students asked for her help in pressuring the university administration to change its position.
She drafted a resolution that details Sudan’s murderous record in Darfur before going on to denounce the university and its board of trustees for not moving to divest. Forty of the council’s 50 aldermen signed on, among them Toni Preckwinkle and Leslie Hairston of the Fourth and Fifth Wards, which include the school.
The four aldermen who showed up for Thursday’s committee meeting—Dowell, Ocasio, 32nd Ward alderman Scott Waguespack, and, for a few minutes, 11th Ward alderman James Balcer—heard a series of university students and faculty blast their school for what they characterized as complicity in evil, and the aldermen often joined in the beat-down. University spokeswoman Julie Peterson was alone in defending the school, but with arguments like “For a university, it takes more courage to stand silent than to yield to the pressure and temptation to take sides,” she didn’t seem to persuade anyone.
“I don’t understand the university’s position on this,” Ocasio concluded.
Everyone, though, agreed that the resolution is a mostly symbolic measure that would probably have little real impact on the people of Darfur; Peterson emphasized that the university’s investments tied to Sudan probably amounted to $1 million or less.
So why is the City Council targeting one institution with relatively minor ties to the Sudanese government? Why not condemn major investment banks? Why not call hearings looking into the city’s own potential investments in Sudan? (The city’s finance and budget spokeswoman just told told me they’re trying to find out how much it might amount to.)
“This calls out one institution among many possible offenders because I heard about it from these students,” Dowell said. “It’s possible that [looking at others] could be the next step.”