UI students reject divestment referendum

UI students reject divestment referendum

CHAMPAIGN — A student advisory referendum calling on the University of Illinois to divest from companies linked to human-rights violations failed, 56.8 to 43.2 percent.

The ballot question referenced human-rights violations of the Palestinian people along with those of "all peoples," though campaign organizers say they weren't singling out Israel.

UI senior Muhammad Yousuf of UIUC Divest, which sponsored the campaign, said Friday he was pleased the referendum got as many votes as it did.

"We definitely knew that the results were going to be close. The fact that it failed by such a close margin is really great to us," he said.

"As much as it (stinks) to have lost this time around, we're planning to continue our campaign in semesters and years to come. I don't see it as a monumental failure by any means."

Yousuf said the group will continue working with different university bodies to improve the referendum's language in the future.

The ballot question included a list of 17 companies — among them Boeing, Caterpillar, ExxonMobil, General Electric and Hewlett-Packard — chosen by matching UI investments with reports from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other groups.

University officials said the resolution would have been advisory only and difficult to implement.

"The divestment campaign is so broad and far-reaching that institutions would lose control over the management of their assets if they agreed to or participated in this type of action," said UI spokesman Tom Hardy.

"You'd basically be in a buy-sell situation any time some group had an issue with a company."

The UI's $2 billion-plus investment portfolio is held mostly by the University of Illinois Foundation, not the campus, said spokeswoman Robin Kaler.

Much of it is in co-mingled funds, and divesting from individual companies would mean liquidating extensive holding and paying higher fees to manage active funds, Hardy said.

Earlier, Yousuf said UIUC Divest had hoped to persuade the university to use a passively managed fund with a "human rights violation screen." That approach is modeled after one supported by the "Beyond Coal" initiative pressuring the UI to divest from any companies tied to the coal industry.

Students voted Wednesday and Thursday on the referendum, along with others on mass transit, Krannert Center and newspaper fees.

These referenda each passed with more than 80 percent of the vote.

The student transportation fee was approved, 84.9 percent to 15.1 percent. This $62-per-semester fee funds the continuation of the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District's transportation services.

The Krannert Center fee was approved, 87.8 percent to 12.2 percent. This $17.28-per-semester fee helps ensure that Krannert Center performances cost $10 or less for students.

The Collegiate Readership fee was approved, 81.4 percent to 18.6 percent. This $2-per-semester fee provides students with free copies of The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, USA Today and the Wall Street Journal.

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basset wrote on March 11, 2017 at 7:03 am

How could you not report the number of students who voted, especially in that student elections have notoriously low turnout?!

UrbanaGuy555 wrote on March 11, 2017 at 9:03 am

Why would this even be an issue?  Sure, Israel works as a US-sponsored terrorist organization against the Palestinians, but come on, let's support the taking of land from others!  We do it in the US!