By Marie Y. Thibault
EDITOR IN CHIEF
The Graduate Student Council General Council passed its share of a Undergraduate Association-GSC joint resolution on Wednesday supporting MIT’s targeted divestment from certain companies involved with the Sudanese government. Even with this sign of support, which comes in addition to the UA’s recent passing of the same resolution, the student body is not entirely unanimous on the topic of divestment from certain companies involved with the Sudanese government. The MIT Corporation’s Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility is currently considering whether MIT should divest or not.
Opinions are divided between those who support targeted divestment and believe that it will send a strong message with an economic incentive to the Sudanese government and those who feel that divestment does nothing to help Sudanese civilians and that there is no evidence that divestment will be effective.
The UA-GSC joint resolution’s author, Kayvan Zainabadi G, said that approval of the resolution shows that “basically the entire student body of MIT is in favor of targeted divestment.” The result of the vote was 26-2-7 (yes-no-abstaining) with only GSC representatives being allowed to vote. The vote at the UA Senate meeting was similar to that at the GSC General Council meeting, with a majority of “yeas” in the voice count and no “nays.” The number of abstentions was not counted.
Targeted divestment involves divestment from those companies that are the worst offenders, meaning they fund the Sudanese government or fund military arms, though there are different models of targeted divestment that can be followed. The resolution asked that “MIT take actions to encourage corporate responsibility in Sudan, including targeted divestment from offending companies doing business with the genocidal government of Sudan immediately (no later than December 31, 2006).”
Discussion on the topic was extended from 10 minutes to about 25 minutes, GSC President Eric G. Weese said. Weese said he felt the results show that a “significant number of students are interested in the Institute doing something about this situation.”
Mustafa G. Dafalla ’09, who opposes the resolution, felt that more time was needed for discussion. He said that though he understood the necessity of time constraints, his argument was broken off after only a couple of minutes while Zainabadi was given enough time to finish presenting his views.
Weese agreed that this exposed what is “perhaps a weakness” of the meeting schedule, adding that the “proposer of a resolution has a certain advantage … because the presenter gets to talk longer than a random audience member.” Dafalla in this case, was a “random bystander,” he said.
Both Dafalla and Zainabadi have authored petitions, with Dafalla opposing divestment and Zainabadi urging divestment.
Zainabadi, whose petition was signed by 483 people as of last night, delivered two copies of his petition to Kirk D. Kolenbrander, vice president for Institute affairs and secretary of the MIT Corporation, on Friday, Dec. 1, intending for one copy to be given to President Susan Hockfield. He also delivered a copy to Ann F. McNamara, an administrative officer in the Office of the President.
Dafalla said that he plans to turn in his petition, which had garnered support from 94 signatories as of last night.
Dafalla said that he felt the student decisions to support targeted divestment from MIT were made “without a lot of analytical discussion.” This, he said, should be taken into account when the ACSR considers student opinion.
Dafalla opposes divestment and emphasized that the divestment campaign doesn’t have a constructive focus. He added that there needs to be an “emphasis on positive initiatives that MIT can do that aren’t hindered by whatever decision we [MIT] make.”
One such initiative that Dafalla has in mind is a company that he is trying to establish with a friend. He hopes to make treadle (foot-operated) irrigation pumps available to farmers. The pumps would be manufactured from local materials. He will be traveling to Sudan in January in hopes of starting this company.
Zainabadi said that Dafalla’s proposed initiatives for improving Sudan’s infrastructure are “almost laughable.” He likened such projects to building railroads during World War II in order to stop the Holocaust.
“They [the Sudanese government] are doing something horrific,” Zainabadi said. “Divestment is not the end … I’m not saying it’s the cure all.”
Zainabadi added that the Sudanese government has not felt any sort of punitive measurements.
Some urge more analysis
Still, not everyone agrees that punitive measures will have the desired effect of stopping genocide in Darfur. UA Senator Ali S. Wyne ’08, who does not agree with the GSC-UA joint resolution, said that the history of success of punitive economic measures is mixed. In addition, he said, at the UA Senate meeting, “everybody conceded to having very little knowledge of the situation and of economic punitive measures.”
The “temptation is to do something … even if we’re not acquainted with the facts,” Wyne said. “We should not vote with our hearts … we must vote with our minds.”
Dafalla echoed this sentiment, saying that “the default shouldn’t be to divest.” He finds fault with targeted divestment because he feels that it “essentially doesn’t say anything.” MIT should have nothing to do with those companies that are contributing to the atrocities in Sudan, he said. But this same statement can be applied to any country, he said.
“My own judgment, so far, is that divestment from corporations that are directly or indirectly contributing to the crimes of the Sudanese government is appropriate,” Professor of Linguistics Noam A. Chomsky wrote in an e-mail. He added that “we should be thinking of ways to help the suffering people of Sudan, and there are specialist in the area who care about those people and have sensible ideas about how to proceed.”
ACSR to meet soon
Michael Baenen, staff to the ACSR, said that one more meeting of the committee is scheduled before the winter holiday break. Weese, who is a member of the ACSR, said that he will tell the committee members about the UA-GSC joint resolution, because they have asked for student input.
Still, Dafalla said that after considering the momentum behind the subject of divestment, “I don’t know if [my view] is necessarily going to make a difference.”
Kolenbrander said that both sides of the argument will be considered, saying that “reasonable people can have different perspectives.”