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May 6, 2016

College Council Avoids Up or Down Vote on China, TBC Divestment

At a well-attended meeting Tuesday, College Council (CC) representatives voted to avoid up-or-down votes on resolutions calling for University divestment from China and for Blue Chips’ divestment from companies associated with Israel in the name of human rights.

CC approved motions to postpone indefinitely consideration of the two resolutions, which effectively kills the resolutions for the time being. The resolutions may be brought up again in the future.

The room was filled with Asian and Asian-American students, many of whom attended to show their disapproval of the China divestment resolution and suspicion of its intentions. The resolution was proposed last week by second-years Matt Foldi and Tamar Gordis and first-year Paul Soltys—all non-Asian students—at last week’s meeting.

Foldi and Gordis are members of the UChicago Coalition for Peace, a student group that opposes divestment from Israel (the coalition itself is not associated with either of the divestment resolutions considered Tuesday). This issue was raised by a resolution presented by student group U of C Divest calling on the University to change the investments it makes with its endowment. U of C Divest wanted the University to move away from a list of companies associated with Israel that the pro-divestment group deemed complicit in violations against Palestinian human rights.

CC passed that original resolution on April 12 by a vote of 8–4, with three representatives abstaining after voting down amendments supporting the existence of a Jewish state and removing all mentions of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. During the debate over that divestment vote, opponents of divestment had asked why the resolution targeted Israel, but not other human rights abusers. The China divestment resolution considered Tuesday closely resembled the U of C Divest resolution.

Tuesday’s debate about the China resolution began with third-year and audience member Sam Dong reading a response to last week’s statement that he and others had written. “We are here today not to critique divestment generally, but to question the motives behind this resolution and this vote,” he said. “Its rhetoric and its surrounding arguments...make it clear that the resolution is intended primarily as a political tool, with the objective of thrusting College Council into a ‘moral inconsistency.’”

“We have reason to suspect that China was selected by the proponents of the new resolution partially as a target of convenience, due to the perceived political meekness of the Asian community in the U.S., in particular that of international Chinese students,” he added.

Immediately following Dong’s statement, second-year representative Calvin Cottrell moved to postpone a vote on the resolution indefinitely. “I’ve said from the very beginning that [CC] is not the place for divestment on these issues, I think both on the Israel petition and on this petition. We’re truly out of our scale,” he said. “I think we should just put divestment behind us.”

Second-year representative Cosmo Albrecht, who had spoken out in support of the divestment resolution last month, called the China resolution “farcical.” “We should not consider this because Asian-American students were not consulted in the drafting of this [resolution],” he said, noting that the students who presented the resolution last week are all anti-divestment. “This is political.”

Second-year representative Michael Meng argued for voting on the resolution rather than postponing it indefinitely. “We should be telling everyone we don’t stand for these shenanigans [of the China divestment resolution] and we’re going to vote no on it,” he said.

First-year representative Qudsiyyah Shariyf argued in support of voting on the resolution, citing the fact that students had brought the issue before CC and, as the representative body of the College, CC should at least consider it by way of a vote. “It’s problematic for us to refuse to vote on something that students bring to us. I know that’s a point of contention, but personally it doesn’t sit right with me,” she said.

Audience members were able to share their viewpoints as well, with many calling for a vote from CC rather than dismissing the resolution as a political maneuver.

“I don’t think Student Government is elected on a platform to make decisions [like this] to represent the entire student body,” one attendee said. “I think it would be good to…make sure we send a clear message to the entire University that [CC] will never again in the future make any such decisions relating to political and social ideas pertaining to the student body. You don’t have a right to do that. You need to vote and make it clear.”

Another student pushed for CC to denounce the resolution for using the Asian and Asian-American student community as a racist action. “I think that [the issue of divestment and CC’s purview] has been consistently used in this conversation as a way to get away from the issue at hand, which is the use of Asian-American and Asian issues co-opted for the benefit of...non-Asian politicians,” the student said. “I think when you’re bringing up that point you’re excusing what’s at hand and you’re complicit in condoning racism, and that’s what happening here and you should take ownership of that.”

Third-year representative Katherine Shen brought the debate to a close before CC moved toward a vote. “In the future, think about the people you’re affecting when you propose a resolution about this. Think about reaching out to the groups of people who care,” she said. “I really would like to thank everybody who is here today. I’m sorry if [CC] has disappointed you, and I’m grateful you’re still participating.”

Foldi, Soltys, and Gordis declined to comment during the debate or after the meeting when approached by The Maroon.

The council voted 15–1–0 in favor of postponing the resolution indefinitely and moved onto the next topic: the resolution proposed by Foldi regarding the RSO Blue Chips, which manages a portfolio donated by a University alumnus. The resolution asked CC to call on Blue Chips to disclose its list of investments and to divest from any of the companies named by U of C Divest or risk losing its RSO status.

According to a letter read at the meeting by third-year representative Peggy Xu from the president of Blue Chips, third-year Cyrus Adamiyatt, the RSO is not invested in any of the specified companies. Adamiyatt said that disclosing or controlling its investments in the way the resolution proposed would “truly damage the educational environment” of the RSO. CC representatives ultimately voted 9–7–0 to postpone the Blue Chips divestment resolution indefinitely.

Debate centered on whether Blue Chips, as an RSO, is under the purview of CC. Fourth-year representative Mike Viola noted that Sarah Cunningham, the senior director of the Center for Leadership and Involvement, had told CC members in an e-mail that her office had the final say on any decision to dissolve an RSO.

Many CC representatives agreed that the resolution deserved a “no” vote but that a vote should be held regardless because this was more directly related to CC. This led into a larger discussion about CC’s jurisdiction related to campus affairs versus foreign affairs.

“I voted for four people in this room, and I voted on those four people without articulation of their beliefs on divestment, on foreign policy, on domestic policy. I don’t think that my interests are fairly represented by a body if I vote for the representatives and they decided to vote on something that I quite frankly did not expect or factor into my decision,” one student said. “It’s almost personally offensive to me that a group of elected officials chose to kind of overstep their bounds in an attempt to make a statement.”

A supporter of U of C Divest responded to these comments by thanking her representatives for responding to issues that students bring forth, including divestment. “I actually voted for four people to actually take on things that I would bring to CC and respect what I would want them to vote on, knowing that things would come up that they didn’t know were going to come up. This is a part of how democracy works and a part of how [a] representative works,” she said.

Xu effectively ended the debate on the issues of the night by calling for more action from CC to acknowledge the inappropriateness of the China divestment resolution. “I was deeply offended by the way that the resolution was brought up, but I’m glad that that [motion to postpone indefinitely] passed,” she said. “I do think that [the issue] was swept under the rug, and I do think that there needs to be more recognition about what just happened in terms of the resolution and the fact that an issue that was deeply personal to many of the people in this room was appropriated for political ends. I don’t think this solves that even though the motion passed.”

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