SG Senate debates over divestment resolution

The Student Government (SG) Senate voted to approve a resolution in favor of divesting from companies deemed questionable in consideration to human rights across the globe. 

The resolution asked the USF Foundation to form a committee of students, staff and faculty that will release quarterly reports concerning investments, the creation of a policy to ensure endowments are invest with regards to human rights and environmental welfare, and divest from companies complicit in human rights violations against the people of Palestine. 

However, according to a statement from USF Media and Public Affairs Manager Adam Freeman, the Foundation Board will not be considering this request again.

The same motion came before members of the USF Foundation leadership, including the CEO and Foundation Board Chair, in May of 2014 in the form of a presentation from members of USF’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) with the petition containing over 10,000 signatures from students in support of divestment, according to Freeman. After which, the materials presented circulated through the USF Foundation Investment Committee before coming up on a meeting agenda.

“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 Committee’s official statement said. “The USF Foundation will not divest investments or alter the investment policy or process based on requests from individuals or groups.”

The resolution won the Senate vote by 32-12 with four abstentions from the vote after a nearly two hour long presentation, discussion and question-and-answer session with the authors Muhammad Imam and Hala Alkattan.

One of the driving sources of information for this resolution comes from a petition organized by SJP that collected over 10,000 signatures during the spring semester of 2014. This petition called for USF to divest — or stop investing in — corporations “that are continuously and knowingly complicit in severe human rights violations”. Imam worked for SJP to find out about Foundation investments through a lengthy process.

Despite the time between the petition’s signature collection and the resolution, Imam maintained that it is an accurate representation of the student body’s position.

“This is something you should take honor in, this is something you should take pride in. This is something that USF students did for the progress of our university,” Imam said in his presentation.

The petition claimed the university endowment is investing in corporations such as Hewlett-Packard (HP), Boeing Company and Lockheed Martin known for offering support to the Israeli military to violate human rights in Palestine. 

The referendum was taken after a petition acquired 2,500 signatures. According to the resolution presented Tuesday night, the referendum passed with 2,111 students voting yes and 609 students voting no. However, the referendum was removed due to lack of advertising by SG with then president Brian Goff claiming that SG takes on full responsibility for the confusion.

However, some senators vocally opposed the resolution. One of the lead opponents during the meeting was Sen. Ralph Herz.

“Martin Luther King’s name was invoked here today. Martin Luther King was a zionist. Martin Luther King … went (to) lengths to compliment Israel about it being the only democracy with applaud-able human rights in a world that has atrocious human rights,” he said. “If we want pretend that this is anything other than racism and anti-Semitism, then you absolutely delusional. 

“This bill does not take as back to the 1950s era where racism was common among racial minorities. This takes us straight back to 1930s Nazi Germany. This is absolutely ridiculous. It is ridiculous that this body is even considering this and I am ashamed to be a USF Bull at this moment.”

Another leading concern was lead by Attorney General Richard LaMura who recommended consulting with legal counsel before proceeding.

“My job is to make sure that we avoid lawsuits and legal action against us. Today a bill passed in the Government Oversight and Accountability Committee that would render this resolution possibly illegal,” he said. “I would advise the Senate to table this tonight and allow me a week to go consult with legal counsel to make sure we’re not breaking any Florida state law because we are bound by those.”

Despite his advice, the Senate went on to vote.

Four of the voting members decided to abstain from the vote concerning the passing of the resolution. One such member was Sen. Melisa Dincer.

“I’m a twenty year old who had this sprung on them a few days ago,” she said. “I don’t feel like I know enough, I have not done my own research into the matter. I need more time to make a decision as big as this.”