Following more than five hours of hearing deliberation from the public and Undergraduate Student Government senators, a controversial divestment resolution was passed late Wednesday night in a secret vote.
Despite public opposition, USG approved the divestment resolution, which will allow student government to create a committee of senators to investigate Ohio State’s investment in companies that might be linked to domestic human rights violations.
The opaque nature of the passing, however, was an issue for some.
The General Assembly passed the resolution by way of “secret ballot,” meaning the vote count will not be released to the public.
“The secret ballot was done so people could hide their vote and vote for something they knew was wrong and their constituents, and the general undergraduate student body, made clear they didn’t want multiple times,” said Nick Davis, a fourth-year in natural resource management.
Davis, in a text message, said students deserve to know the vote count because they are being represented by the senators.
“There are no ‘secret ballots’ in actual government,” he said. “If we’re going to act as a governing body we should follow it 100 percent. It’s shameful.”
The vote count will be released in the USG meeting minutes, Sophie Chang, the vice president, said.
According to USG’s standing rules, if a senator motions for this form of vote, the method must be “recognized and carried out by the presiding officer.” So, once a senator requests a stringent method, Chang must carry out the request.
A preliminary version of the resolution included language asking the university to sever financial ties with specific companies thought to have committed various human rights violations, but the language ultimately proved too controversial to stand.
This is not anti-Semitism disguised as a USG resolution. Suggesting those who are a part of it are part of a global conspiracy against Jewish people is insulting. – Emma Meersman, fourth-year in public health.
As the senators debated the bill, it seemed as if the resolution was on track to fail. But Maria Humayun, a second-year in international studies and public affairs, proposed a compromise to remove all parts of the resolution that reference international affairs, making the committee research purely focusing on domestic human rights violations.
The motion, now less explicitly linked to the Israeli-Palestine conflict, passed easily.
More than 40 students from the general public gave their thoughts about the resolution, with the majority speaking against it and many citing its anti-Semitic undertones.
“Supporters of this bill will tell you that they are simply asking a committee to be created,” said Jeremy Cronig, a second-year in public policy. “It is not simply that. I have looked at this, and it is intentionally dishonest.”
Co-sponsors said they were disappointed the resolution was thought to be anti-Israel.
“This is not anti-Semitism disguised as a USG resolution,” said Emma Meersman, a fourth-year in public health. “Suggesting those who are a part of it are part of a global conspiracy against Jewish people is insulting.”
Ben Kanas, a second-year in public affairs and international studies, was skeptical of this assertion.
“The sponsors state that this resolution is not BDS, then why are you using organizations, as a source, that support BDS?” Kanas asked, referencing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which says its goal is to end what it believes is Israel’s violation of international law.
Before going into final voting for the resolution, Ezequiel Herrera, a third-year in communication and psychology, proposed an amendment to the resolution that said, “USG condemns BDS and all that it stands for.”
The motion failed.
USG is supposed to represent student voices on campus. Tonight, 80 percent of the students who spoke opposed the resolution. – Max Littman, asecond-year in political science
The first round of voting cast by secret ballot resulted in a revote because more votes were cast than senators present. When asked, USG offered no explanation for the discrepancy. This is the first instance in which the 2017-18 General Assembly used the secret voting method, Davis said. Chang said she could not recall whether this was the first time.
As the clock struck midnight after another round of voting, Chang announced that the resolutions passed.
Why would we continue to push something so controversial when there is such a clear message of opposition on this campus? There has been for the last three years. – Ben Kanas, second-year in public affairs and international studies
After the resolution passed, two senators — Davis and Anthony Long, a second-year in political science — began a verbal argument threatening to fight each other on their way out of the Ohio Union.
Davis disputes this occurred.
Although the resolution passed, some USG members were displeased with the outcome, including Max Littman, a second-year in political science, who was acting as an alternate senator.
“USG is supposed to represent student voices on campus. Tonight, 80 percent of the students who spoke opposed the resolution,” Littman said.
Although the senator Littman stood in for was a co-sponsor of the resolution, he decided to vote against it.
Similar divestment resolutions have been discussed three times in USG, but none were successful. A referendum was placed on the ballot in March 2017 that lost by 250 votes, so senators questioned why they are still trying to bring up the same resolutions.
“Why would we continue to push something so controversial when there is such a clear message of opposition on this campus?” Kanas asked. “There has been for the last three years.”
Savannah Sockwell, a sponsor of the bill, clarified earlier in the evening that this was not the same referendum presented during the 2017 vote, citing more research was put into the resolution after Ohio State declined to reveal the companies they invest in.
“[OSU] told us to come up with a more holistic human rights bill. And that’s what this is,” Sockwell, a third-year in public affairs, said. “We researched. This is a whole new bill.”
The resolution for a committee will have to pass through the University Senate before it can move forward.
Update, 1/25 at 9:31: this article has been updated to include Davis’ disputed account.
Update, 1/26 at 2:22 p.m: this article has been updated to include information on the vote count being made available to the public in USG meeting minutes.