Petition Drafted For Institute Divestment
Sudanese Government Cited as ...Genocidal...
By Marie Y. Thibault
EDITOR IN CHIEF
As an MIT Corporation advisory committee continues deliberating whether MIT should divest from Sudan or not, a petition supporting divestment is gathering energy around campus. A lecture planned for next week is expected to open and add to campus discussion about divestment.
The petition reads, “We, the undersigned, request the Massachusetts Institute of Technology divest from offending companies doing business with the genocidal government in Sudan immediately (no later than December 31st 2006).”
The petition’s author, Kayvan Zainabadi G, said that the petition had 229 signatures on Nov. 9. As of last night, the petition had garnered 343 signatures.
Zainabadi plans to present the petition to MIT Corporation’s Advisory Committee for Shareholder Responsibility at their next meeting before bringing it before the Corporation’s Executive Committee.
Graduate Student Council President Eric G. Weese G, also a member of the ACSR, said that the committee checked the number of signatures on the petition at its last meeting.
Zainabadi hopes that the ACSR will decide to divest and will choose a model of “targeted divestment” for the divestment, as was proposed by the Sudan Divestment Task Force.
Brandeis University sophomore Daniel Millenson, president and national advocacy director of the task force, explained that the targeted model “only goes after the worst offenders.” This means that of the approximately 400 companies with ties to Sudan, about two dozen are on the worst offenders list. These worst offenders are those companies that have business relations with the Sudanese government or with government related projects, provide minimum benefit to people outside government circles, and do not have a substantial corporate governance policy.
Millenson said that he has e-mailed the ACSR twice offering the Sudan Divestment Task Force as a resource and to provide company research but has not received a reply.
ACSR Chair Alan G. Spoon said that the committee is taking note of all approaches and that their decision process is deliberate, thoughtful, and careful. Members have done extensive reading and have surveyed the kinds of approaches that other university and financial institutions are taking or have taken.
He would not pinpoint a date when a decision could be expected, saying that a decision could not be rushed because “we’re going to do it right.”
Spoon declined to divulge how much money MIT has invested in Sudan.
Michael Baenen, staff to the committee, said that although a date has not been set for the ACSR’s next meeting, the members are hoping to meet one more time before the winter holidays.
All of the Ivy League schools have done either general divestment or have placed restriction on future investments. Other Massachusetts schools, including Brandeis, Williams, Smith, Boston University, and Amherst have all done divestment of some sort. Wellesley College, like MIT, has an active campaign on campus to divest.
Lecture Draws Debate
As part of his campaign for divestment, Zainabadi has arranged for Eric Reeves, a professor at Smith College, to speak on Nov. 30. Flyers for the event, “‘A Long Day’s Dying: Genocide by Attrition in Sudan,’” advertise Reeves as a “‘professor-turned-activist.’”
Zainabadi approached both the GSC and the Undergraduate Association for a $1,000 honorarium — $500 from each governing body — to “be donated to charitable organization working in Sudan for humanitarian relief.” Reeves requested this honorarium.
In addition, Zainabadi is attempting to gain UA and GSC sponsorship of the petition.
It is possible that one resolution could pass and the other could fail, or vice versa, Weese said. The GSC Executive Committee will vote on the request for $500.
The UA decided to table a decision on the divestment resolution, Zainabadi said. UA Senators felt that more information was needed and that it wouldn’t be fair to vote on the resolution without gathering constituent opinion, he said.
The original resolution to provide $500 for the Reeves speech was enacted as a bill to appropriate $1,000 for an “honorarium for speakers to publicly discuss the conflict and issues surrounding MIT’s divestiture from Sudan.”
This bill sprung from a debate brought up by Mustafa G. Dafalla ’09, who is originally from Sudan and has visited the country several times. He argues that divestment does not work toward a solution. “If MIT is about divestiture and not about initiatives, how can we honestly say we are part of the solution?,” he asked.
Dafalla also said that Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, is often cited in the media as a developed, modern city. He said that he found during a visit this summer that many homes lack indoor plumbing or much of what city dwellers in America count as necessities.
A more viable alternative than divestment, he said, is for MIT to begin an initiative to work toward building infrastructure in Sudan so that necessities can be delivered to everyone in the country. “If we’re serious about helping people, why not take an active role in making things happen?”
The UA bill provides for a speaker to present another view alongside Reeves at the Nov. 30 event. Dafalla said that he has approached some faculty members, but finds that there is a dichotomy over divestment from Sudan. Dafalla said that he “in no way support[s] the government’s indiscriminate attacks against innocent civilians.” Still, he said, it seems that the popular message seems to be that you either support divestment or you support killing babies.
One faculty member Dafalla has approached expressed extreme reserve about speaking on his/her opposition to the divestment, he said, because it is difficult to go on the record as an opposer of divestment.
Zainabadi said that Dafalla’s opposition to his view has caused “much more good than bad,” since it opened a lively debate.
The petition can be found and signed online at http://www.petitiononline.com/divest/petition.html.