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Cutting ties with Darfur

Two student organizations at Ohio State are putting pressure on the university to cut financial ties with companies connected to the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan.

“It’s important that students are informed and take a stand,” said David Boley, president of the Council of Graduate Students.

Since February 2003, more than 400,000 Darfurian civilians have been killed in an ethnic cleansing by Arab militias, according to the Sudan Divestment Task Force Web site. In the United States, several companies, universities and state legislatures have stopped investing in companies with ties to the east African nation primarily in an attempt to cut military funding.

Undergraduate Student Government and CGS want OSU to become a part of this group.

CGS passed a resolution in the spring that urged the university to pull investments from Sudan. USG is currently working on its version of a similar resolution.

While a resolution does not force the university to take direct action, it shows school officials students are concerned with the issue and want the university to take action, Boley said.

USG and CGS officials said they plan to lobby the Faculty Council for support, a crucial step in getting university officials to consider the issue.

According to the Sudan Divestment Task Force Web site, 57 universities have adopted divestment policies including Big Ten schools Northwestern, the University of Wisconsin and the University of Illinois. Forty-seven other universities have initiated campaigns including OSU.

Interim OSU Treasurer Tom Johnson said it is unclear what the financial fallout would be if the university were to divest funds from Sudan. He said it would cost OSU money to change investments and the university might not find other investments with the same financial returns.

“We feel like we’re bound to do the best we can for our endowment,” Johnson said.

Investment managers handle OSU’s assets, which are constantly changing, sometimes on a daily basis. Johnson said the process of investing becomes more difficult when there are limitations.

“We do not like restrictions on what we can invest,” he said.

While it is hard to pinpoint the current status of investments, Johnson said past OSU investments with ties to Sudan include Royal Dutch Shell and the China-based oil company, PetroChina.

Johnson said the treasurer’s office has been lobbied by special interest groups in the past to divert university funding for social causes, including environmental issues. In the early 1990s, several universities pulled investments from South Africa in protest of the segregational laws known as apartheid.

In the case of Sudan, Johnson said it would be better to have a national policy on the issue rather than individual entities with varying policies.

“I respect the people that are involved in this because they are trying to make a positive impact,” he said.

At USG’s Oct. 17 meeting, a resolution supporting divestment from Sudan was sent back to the Policy and Governance committee for revision by a vote of 18-to-seven.

“A lot of the senators thought the plan of action wasn’t clear enough and offending companies were not defined well enough,” said USG Diversity Sen. Zachary Usmani, who proposed the resolution.

A revised resolution will go in front of the USG Senate during the Oct. 31 meeting, Usmani said.

USG President Kate Christobek said it will be exciting to collaborate with other university leaders to encourage school officials to look into the issue. Because of the nature of their organizations, USG and CGS usually have different priorities and concerns.

“It’s rare that we can all get behind something and support it,” Christobek said.

Alaina Busch can be reached at busch.61@osu.edu.

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