Going a Different Way on Darfur

Shunning divestment as “destructive,” George Washington U. creates a more “constructive” scholarship for Sudanese students.
October 3, 2006

Close to 30 universities have joined a national campaign to protest the genocide in Sudan by divesting their pension funds from companies that do business in the African country,,but George Washington University will not be participating. Instead, George Washington announced on Monday that it  plans to fund a scholarship program for Sudanese students.

Tracy Schario, director of media relations at the university, says that the idea for the scholarship came at the suggestion of student leaders after meeting with President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg to discuss having the university divest from Sudan. Trachtenberg, she says, was interested in moving forward with a policy that is “constructive and not destructive.”

“Embargoes don’t work,” she said, adding that GW is creating the scholarship in lieu of divesting.

Trachtenberg, she said, expects that the scholarship fund “will serve as an example for others to educate the next generation instead of punishing the current one.” George Washington hopes that other universities will follow with their own scholarships. Worth more than $200,000 over four years, the scholarship will fund tuition, books and other expenses. The university now grants between 9 and 10 such scholarships each year to students living in the university's home town of Washington, D.C.

In an article Monday in the George Washington student newspaper, The Hatchet (free registration required), Sara Weisman, who heads the GW chapter of Students Taking Action Now: Darfur (STAND), which is pushing the divestment movement nationally, said that she felt the idea of creating a scholarship is really a separate issue from the need to divest. Weisman’s statement was echoed by Harvard’s student leader on Darfur divestment, Chad Hazlett.

“This scholarship is situated as if it’s a tradeoff, and alternative, to divestment,” he wrote in an e-mail. “It isn't. I think the scholarship is a great idea. But it doesn't substitute for putting pressure on the government of Sudan, nor does it satisfy the moral obligation of those who made the decision to be doing all they can to end genocide.”
“It’s great if security increases and the killing stops,” says Adam Sterling, executive director of the Sudan Divestment Task Force, another national group. He calls the idea of a scholarship for Sudanese students “forward thinking” and a good policy that other universities should consider. “But we need to take action now to end the genocide. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.”

In August, Cornell University announced that it had completely divested from oil companies that currently operate in Sudan. After selling more than $11 million in shares, the university reinvested the money in other companies. In a news release, Cornell’s new president, David Skorton, stated, “[I]t is the best way to stand up for the people of Darfur by refusing to invest in such companies that, in effect, provide the financial backing to the instigators of genocide.”

Cornell’s executive vice president for finance and administration, Stephen Golding, said Monday that divesting had not harmed the university’s finances, and added that officials do not see divestment as a panacea for change in the region. The choice was made over the summer and did not involve a great deal of student input.

“I think [Cornell’s] president and the board would applaud this policy,” he said of the scholarship fund set up by George Washington. “It is this kind of action that will help in the long term.”

Sterling said that most institutions are initially opposed to altering their investment policies to try to create political change. He added that his group has not had a detailed conversation with officials at G.W. about their opposition to divestment. While students have led the divestment movement, he said that interest by university officials is most important.

The president of George Washington’s student association, Lamar Thorpe, said that students support divestment and held a rally last May in support of the policy. He said that students will support action taken by GW STAND in the future.


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