By Matt PresserThe Daily Northwestern
University officials released a statement Tuesday saying Northwestern would consider “the possibility of prohibiting University investments” in companies with business operations in Sudan.
The announcement comes in response to the ongoing conflict in the country’s Darfur region, where hundreds of thousands of people have died and millions more have been displaced.
In 2005, the university instructed the firms that invest money on NU’s behalf to sell any holdings in four companies that had been identified as supporters of the Sudanese government.
At the time, only two other universities – Harvard and Stanford – had acted on the Darfur conflict, said Eugene Sunshine, NU’s senior vice president for business and finance.
Other schools have since followed suit, including some institutions that have imposed broader restrictions.
Many NU students have pushed the university to ensure that none of its money is invested with companies that support the Sudanese government or are contributing to the conflict in Darfur.
An online petition calling for NU to “immediately, publicly, and completely divest from all companies supporting the genocide in Darfur” had 668 signatures as of Tuesday night.
Northwestern University Darfur Action Coalition held a town hall meeting on the subject a week ago that drew about 80 people.
Alyssa Huff, a NUDAC coordinator, said it is important for NU to publicly demonstrate its opposition to Sudan’s actions.
“The statement is as powerful as the actual money that’s being divested,” said Huff, a Weinberg sophomore.
Huff called the university’s recent statement “a good start” but said her group will continue to push for the university to divest from a list of other companies identified by the Sudan Divestment Task Force.
“Students aren’t apathetic about this. Faculty aren’t apathetic about this,” she said. “This is an issue that morally implicates all of us.”
Administrators at the University of Chicago announced last week that the school will not divest from companies supporting the Sudanese government.
Sunshine said each institution must make its own decisions regarding investments and that at NU such decisions are made by the Board of Trustees.
“We’ve already had some conversations (with students),” he said. “We’re very pleased to sit down with them and listen and then to consider what they say.”
University President Henry Bienen recalled the example of South Africa under apartheid as a similar situation where the “pressures to divest were very great.”
“The whole issue of divestment is one I’ve thought about a lot,” he told The Daily on Monday. “I’ve been thinking about it 30-odd years.”
Bienen added there are an “infinite number of issues that somebody wants to bring up” with regard to divestment, such as divesting from companies that use non-unionized labor.
“I think our board is very concerned with politicizing the issue of how we invest and where we invest,” he said, adding that he believed Darfur might be an exception.
NUDAC members are planning a rally in March and are hosting several other events to prove to administrators that students are passionate about this issue.
“The public statement is good and it affirms that they are going to take some sort of stance on divestment,” Huff said, “(but) our role in the coming months is to continue to show that this is something that students are interested in.”
Fifteen NUDAC members met at Norris University Center Tuesday night to discuss the university’s statement.
“I don’t think they did a haphazard job,” said Communication senior Susannah Cunningham, a NUDAC coordinator. “I think you can see this as a small, but incomplete, victory.”
The Daily’s Nomaan Merchant contributed to this report. Reach Matt Presser at [email protected]