UVM to divest funds from Sudan

Months of work finally paid off for Jeff Skoldberg this past week. At the request of Mr. Skoldberg – a member of Students Take Action Now: Darfur (STAND) – the Committee on Socially Responsible Investing voted unanimously to recommend to the Board of Trustees that UVM divest equities from international companies supporting the Sudanese government. Mr. Skoldberg presented the committee with a plan to ensure that UVM’s 39.1 million dollars of foreign equity are not invested in any multinational company trading telecommunications, energy, or weapons with the Sudanese government. Skoldberg asserted that targeted divestment in these three areas could be effective in harming the Sudanese government while at the same time doing little damage to the already afflicted rural populations. He further explained that by divesting in these companies, UVM could become one of the leaders in a financial campaign against genocide, joining prestigious institutions such as the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard, and the entire University of California school system. As a leader in the fight against Sudan, UVM could help influence and convince other universities to divest, as well as bringing increased national media attention to a sorely under told story. During Skoldberg’s presentation, the film “Witnessing Darfur” was shown to the nine-person committee and the audience of about twenty people. Comprised of slides and eyewitness testimonials by an ex-marine, the film described many of the atrocities in Sudan, like large fields of human bones, burned villages and displaced people. The film stated that 400,000 people have already died in Sudan, while over three million others are currently exiled or living in inhospitable regions. At the end of the presentation, members of the audience expressed their concerns and hope that UVM adopt a policy of divestment. Among those who spoke were students, faculty and community members. Professor Robert Gordon from the Anthropology Department stated that divestment and active resistance against the Sudanese government is both necessary and a “part of Vermont’s tradition.” Another member of the audience chose to quote Eli Weisel, saying, “What hurts the victim most is not the cruelty of the oppressor but the silence of the bystander.” Once the audience finished speaking, the members of the committee – comprised of faculty members, administrators, trustees and one student – each gave a brief response and then voted to urge the trustees to make divestment a University policy. Since 1993 UVM’s official policy has been to align its social and ethical viewpoints with its financial dealings. In the past, similar committees have voted to divest in tobacco conglomerates and companies supportive of South African apartheid. The next step in the process will be for the Committee on Socially Responsible Investing to submit a report to the Board of Trustees Committee on Investing at their next meeting in May. The Board can then decide whether or not to create a task force to carry out the policy.