Senate vote against divestment bill prompts varied reactions
The ASSU Undergraduate Senate’s vote Tuesday night on two pieces of legislation concerning divestment, which concluded three weeks of heated debate and outside endorsements on both sides of the issue, has been met with varied reactions from students and alumni around the world.
The Senate ultimately voted against a revised bill proposed by Student for Palestinian Equal Rights (SPER), which would have pledged the Senate’s support in urging the Board of Trustees to reconsider investment in two companies that SPER believes violate human rights and international law.
The Senate also passed a resolution written by Senators Lauren Miller ’15, Nancy Pham ’14, Branden Crouch ’14 and Daniela Olivos ’15 that encouraged the Advisory Panel for Investment Responsibility and Licensing (APIRL) to review all of Stanford’s investments, asked concerned students to approach the APIRL and promised to facilitate greater discussion of divestment on campus.
The Senate meeting was live-tweeted by many in attendance using the hashtag #StanfordDivests.
Reaction from supporters of the bill
On Wednesday morning, SPER posted a press release to their website documenting student support of the bill and discussing their plans moving forward.
SPER co-president Omar Shakir ’07 J.D. ’13, who originally brought the issue of divestment before the Senate with a presentation on Feb. 19, said that although the Senate did not pass SPER’s bill, the group had reached a “significant milestone.”
“To see so many students come together before the vote and encourage senators to vote with their conscience, really to me was a victory and shows how the campus community views this issue,” Shakir said.
According to Shakir, several senators privately supported the bill and signed the SPER’s divestment petition, but were under “tremendous pressure from select individuals” that prevented them from publicly showing their support.
The petition, which is available on SPER’s website, lists senators Brandon Hightower ’15, Daniela Olivos ’15 and Christos Haveles ’15 as “divestment signatories.” Hightower and Olivos voted against the bill, and Haveles abstained.
“The dynamics of what took place [on Tuesday] and the concerted pressure tactics that were used certainly prevented many from voting their conscience,” Shakir said, adding that he believes the resolution that was passed reflects the Senate’s concern with the ethical issues that SPER members discussed.
Josh Schott ’14, one of the co-authors of SPER’s bill, agreed with Shakir that SPER’s efforts have “dramatically changed the campus climate,” and blamed the opposition for “bombarding [the senators] with statements that made them question their moral compass.”
However, while Shakir was optimistic about the Senate’s resolution, Schott said that he believed the resolution wouldn’t influence the APIRL.
“We feel that that was definitely a maneuver to nix the bill and we felt like that was the way to create an outlet for the senators,” he said. “I don’t consider the APIRL resolution to matter in any sense of meaning — it doesn’t have any teeth. I don’t think it does anything.”
Former ASSU President Michael Cruz ’12, who sent an email to the SPER mailing list expressing his distress with the Senate’s vote, said that he was “disappointed that the bill put forth by SPER did not pass.”
In the email, titled “I am disappointed,” Cruz expressed his concern that what he referred to as a “SOCC [Students of Color Coalition] dominated ASSU Senate” could not “manage to pass a bill for human rights.”
Cruz declined to comment on the resolution that passed, on whether or not he believed that voting on the bill was within the Senate’s purview or if he thought that divestment should be discussed in another forum.
Reaction from opponents of the bill
Jason Lupatkin ’13 said that he was “elated” that the Senate had voted against SPER’s bill. While he saw the resolution as a “compromise move made to placate members of SPER,” he had no major issues with the resolution’s content.
“I can’t argue with the message of that bill. Ethical investment is definitely important,” Lupaktin said. “Although I generally think the Senate should stay out of issues of political importance that don’t have a general consensus, I’m okay with the resolution because at the end of the day, nobody can really argue against ethical investment.”
Though Lupatkin said that he believed the Senate did a “great job of moderating the discussion,” he expressed disappointment with how supporters of the bill took to social media to criticize those arguing against it.
“I did feel a little bit disrespected when I found out that supporters of SPER had been live tweeting the entire event, and I was labeled as an arrogant frat boy who appeared to be drunk,” he said. “Although the bill did not pass, there is definitely some damage that has been done to campus unity.”
Many of the bill’s opponents argued that the Senate should not have voted on the issue.
Marty Zack ’14, president of SIA, said that even discussing the bill was “a huge step backwards in terms of what the ASSU should and could be working on.”
“Each of the senators ran to make the community a better place and have lots of ideas about doing that, and this bill had nothing to do with any of that,” Zack said. “It just detracted from the important work that the ASSU does in trying to make the student community a happy, more productive place to be.”
Former Senator Alon Elhanan ’14, who gave a presentation about divestment to the Senate at their Feb. 26 meeting, said that voting on the bill may have violated the ASSU Constitution.
Elhanan pointed to Article I, Section 5.B of the ASSU Constitution, which states that the Senate may act as a representative of the student body “only if there is at least one Stanford student who is affected by the matter in a substantially different manner than would be the case if he or she were not a University student.”
Elhanan said that he considered it “questionable” that this stipulation was satisfied in the case of Stanford students and the Israel-Palestine conflict. He raised a similar objection as a Senator on a equally contentious bill last year.
“I think the Senate understood that, and when it came to such a divisive bill, the SPER bill, they couldn’t make a statement on behalf of the entire student body,” Elhanan said.