President John Hennessy statement to Faculty Senate

This past Tuesday evening, as many of you know, the ASSU Senate chose to revote on a resolution and approve a request for divestment that focuses on Israel and Palestine.

I have three points I want to make concerning this and the movement for divestment from countries involved in the Middle East conflict.

First, in the nearly 15 years that I have been president, and my 30 years here as a faculty member, I have never seen a topic that has been more divisive within the university community. As a university, we must remain committed to civil and rational discussion, especially when the issues are highly controversial. An atmosphere of intimidation or vitriol endangers our ability to operate as an intellectual community.

Second, you should be aware that our policy on investment responsibility specifically allows the Trustees to not act on any proposal that is likely to have negative consequences for the university community. To quote the policy:

“If the Trustees conclude that a specific Trustee action otherwise indicated under these Guidelines is likely to impair the capacity of the University to carry out its educational mission (for example, by causing significant adverse action on the part of governmental or other external agencies or groups, or by causing deep divisions within the University community), then the Trustees need not take such action.”

Finally, our policy does not contain provisions for broad or formulaic divestment. Any divestment request needs to focus on individual companies, including specific evidence that their activities cause direct and substantial social injury.

Thus, contrary to folklore, the Trustees never voted to divest from all companies doing business in South Africa. They approved selectively divesting from a small number of companies over a period of several years. Those companies were individually contacted and either ignored or refused requests by the university to work towards implementing the so-called Sullivan principles. Subsequently, the university made a decision in those cases to divest.

Hopefully, we can continue this discussion in a rational and civil manner in the months ahead.