This week the University of South Florida student government Senate overwhelmingly passed a resolution to pull the university’s investments from companies involved in human rights violations against Palestinians; but USF appears ready to reject the students once again on this issue.
Muhammad Imam, a 2nd–year medical student at USF and a student government senator, helped write the resolution that passed Tuesday night 32-12 (five senators abstained).
Listen to the interview here:
“One of the issues that was there I recently took a passionate role in, was that resolution in support of student voices, which honored 10,000 signatures in support of divestment. The resolution called on the University to disinvest from companies complicit in human rights violations in Palestine. Companies like Caterpillar, which profit off of home demolitions in Palestine, which is a fancy word for the settlements and colonialism, that goes on every day, against the Palestinian people. And our University invests in companies, such as Caterpillar.
It’s important to note that Caterpillar is one of the, is the only company to be condemned by the United Nations General Assembly. Imagine that. A company so bad that it is directly condemned by the United Nations. That’s what we’re asking our university to disinvest from.”
Now, this divestment is not new to USF. Two years ago, students raised 10,000 petitions, then they — Students for Justice in Palestine presented their findings in their request to the Board of the USF Foundation. And they were turned down quickly. And the Board of the USF Foundation in a statement wrote: “The USF Foundation will not divest investments or alter the investment policy or process, based on requests from individuals or groups.” Is this a request or does it have any kind of weight with the USF Board of Trustees?
“Regarding your question, I would like to correct the misleading assertion. We, as students, were never allowed to present in front of the Investment Committee, which made this decision. In fact, the USF Foundation and the administration actively worked to suppress the student voice, for several years now. And when the 10,000 student signatures were considered by the investment committee, the USF Foundation investment committee made a mockery of the process by dismissing it in 15 minutes.
“Upon further investigation, the members of the USF Foundation investment committee — that’s Alan Bomstein, the one who actually motioned to dismiss the petition — was found to have investments in illegal Israeli settlements himself. Just like the President of the university, Judy Genshaft, who also have been found to be linked to investments in illegal Israeli settlements. So it’s very concerning that these conflict of interests were never brought up in investment committee. They were never brought up to the USF Foundation Board of Trustees.
“In fact, the students that signed the 10,000 signatures were never allowed to present in front of the Investment Committee or in front of the 50 Trustees of the USF Foundation. Their voices have been completely silenced and in fact, a vast majority of the 50 Trustees of the USF Foundation have no idea that this petition took place.
“And that is exactly what the students at Government is asking for: for these voices to be honored. For these voices, which have been silenced for far too long by University meddling, to be addressed. It is time for these voices to be heard in front of the USF Foundation.
“This is a petition that USF should be proud of. This is a petition that USF should honor students or colleagues for divestment. They’re not calling for Chick-Fil-A stocks, they’re calling for something that will increase the progress of our university. That is the modern civil rights issue of the day. It is in the footsteps of Nelson Mendela, who called for divestment against South African apartheid. It is in the footsteps of a great legacy that has been established around the country by major civil rights activists today. It is wrong for our university to invest in segregation. It is wrong for our university to invest in companies complicit off of human rights violations.
“It’s important to note that the companies that are doing human rights violations today, in Palestine, are also doing human rights violations here in the United States. For example, let’s take G4S, which profits off of private prisons built in Palestine that house Palestinian children. This company G4S is one of leading lobbies in the United States for immigrant deportation because it profits off of the mass deportation of families that are in the United States. Get this straight, the company G4S, which our university is investing in, profits off of deportation of immigrants here in the United States. Why is our university investing in G4S?
“Why is our university, a university that prides itself in being one of the greenest campuses in the United States, why is USF investing in fossil fuel companies that destroy the climate? These are questions that students at the University of South Florida are asking for. These are the values that our institution has, but these are not the values that our institution follows. For example, USF implements a policy, starting this year, calling for no smoking to be allowed on campus. As they invest in the world’s largest tobacco company. Because guess what? It’s easier to make New Year’s resolutions for others, than to lead by example.”
So, after the Student Senate voted, now the resolution will go to the Faculty Senate and also to the USF Staff Senate. What happens if those groups agree with your resolution?
“So, the Student Senate vehemently voted in support of this resolution. And by a vote of 32–12. Now the Faculty Senate is expected to consider it. We’re exploring our options and so the Staff Senate is expected to consider it. The students are asking for these two institutions to consider it and we’ll see what leads the way and we’re hoping that the University will stop meddling in Student Affairs.”
The Student Government resolution still needs to be signed by the Senate president and the student body president. A USF spokesperson wrote, “…the Senate resolution does not require any action by USF.” And “Since the issue was taken up and considered by the USF Foundation, it will not be taken up again or voted on at future meetings.” (USF’s full statement is below).
USF denied WMNF News’ request to interview USF Foundation member Alan Bomstein and USF president Judy Genshaft, school officials whose personal investments were criticized by Imam. A USF spokesperson wrote “The personal investments of USF administrators or Foundation Board members are not relevant to this discussion.” The media organization Mondoweiss has reported that Genshaft, Bomstein and others at USF invest in funds supporting Israeli settlements.
About two years ago students gathered 10,000 signatures and presented information to leaders of the university’s foundation, but they were rebuffed.
Here’s the full statement emailed to WMNF News by USF spokesperson Adam Freeman:
At this time the resolution has only been voted on by the Student Government Senate – the Student Body President and Vice President have not signed the resolution so it remains strictly a senate resolution at this time.
Additionally, the Senate resolution does not require any action by USF. Only the USF Foundation Board can change investment policy and if you recall this same request regarding divestment was made to the USF Foundation about two years ago. They voted on it after careful and thoughtful consideration in 2014 and they have no plans to review or vote on it again. The personal investments of USF administrators or Foundation Board members are not relevant to this discussion.
Let me provide further information about the events that occurred in 2014.
On May 5, 2014 a group from USF’s Students for Justice in Palestine presented their petition to members of the USF Foundation leadership, including the CEO and Foundation Board Chair. In an over one-hour presentation they reviewed their petition and explained their objectives. The petition and accompanying materials were then circulated to members of the USF Foundation Investment Committee. The item was placed on the committee’s agenda for consideration during its meeting on May 28, 2014. At that time the committee passed a resolution and issued the statement below. Since the issue was taken up and considered by the USF Foundation, it will not be taken up again or voted on at future meetings.
The Investment Committee of the USF Foundation has been presented with a student petition and supporting materials from the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). The petition and all supporting materials presented by SJP have been reviewed by the members of the Foundation Investment Committee.
The USF Foundation supports a public university, where free speech and the collegial exchange of ideas and expression of differing opinions may be offered in civil dialogue. The rights of individuals and groups to voice their opinions on topics, including social, environmental and political issues are respected, both as part of this exchange of ideas and as part of the academic process.
The Foundation’s mission is to provide financial resources to the University, guided by a fiduciary responsibility to manage the endowment in the best fiscal interests of the USF System. In meeting this fiduciary obligation, the Foundation’s investment policy adheres to the Florida Uniform Prudent Management of Institutional Funds Act (Florida Statute 617.2104), the University’s Investment Policy, and the advice of professional investment advisors. Through prudent investment in a diversified portfolio the USF Foundation endowment has provided significant support to the University.
The USF Foundation investment policy, process and investments will continue to be guided by its mission, fiduciary responsibilities and state or federal law or regulation. The USF Foundation will not divest investments or alter the investment policy or process based on requests from individuals or groups.