2007/02/09

Freedom to invest is really just like free speech

I went to a U Chicago protest today demanding that the university divest from companies involved in supporting the Sudanese government because of its involvement in the ethnic violence in Darfur. This issue doesn't really do much for me - I generally think Americans should concentrate on preventing their own government from killing hundreds of thousands of people before they go crusading against other governments. And the actual investments at stake are fairly minor; divesting would be mostly symbolic. But the divestment activism seems to be the biggest campaign on campus, and I think the principle is important. First, the university should not be free to invest in companies that are complicit in gross human rights violations. And second, the university should be accountable to the people that make up the community.

Instead, the administration and board of trustees have argued that if they give in to this political pressure, then they will have abandoned their duty to maintain an atmosphere of open discussion. Needless to say, this is a bizarre argument meant to provide only minimal pretense for retaining the administration/board of trustees' autonomy from the university community and to avoid the slippery slope of permitting open debate on what the university should do with its money. Divest from Sudan today, what's next? Turn down money from the War Department? Spend money to ameliorate the vast expanse of poverty that surrounds the university?

2 comments:

Vino S said...

Because most shares of most companies are held by collective bodies - like universities, pension funds etc., disinvestment does have some potential as a tactic to force companies to clean up their act. However, it is no substitute for state regulation to _mandate_ action that is now considered a purely voluntary part of corporate responsibility. It shouldn't be seen as a 'good thing' for a company not to use sweated labour, regulations should mandate decent working conditions and be enforced.

Patrick said...

So by respecting the concerns of the campus community, expressed through open discourse, the university would be undermining open discourse? I love it.