In an email to CC and SEAS students sent this morning, the Columbia Election Commission announced student government representatives for the coming years and the passage of the divestment referendum. 61.04% of participating students voted in support of the University’s divestment from companies that profit from or support Israeli policy toward Palestinian people.
Last week, Columbia College students voted on the question of whether “Columbia University [should] divest its stocks, funds, and endowment from companies that profit from or engage in the State of Israel’s acts towards Palestinians that, according to Columbia University Apartheid Divest (CUAD), fall under the United Nations International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment on the Crime of Apartheid.”
Out of the 1771 students who participated in the voting, 1081 voted in favor, 485 voted against, and 205 abstained. Overall, 39.3% of the Columbia College student body voted on the referendum, which exceeds the baseline 30% required for a valid vote. This comes after years of debate surrounding the contentious Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) Ballot initiative that CCSC eventually passed in November of 2019. The vote to divest was originally set to take place in the spring semester of 2020, but due to COVID-19 and the displacement of the student body, the vote was pushed to the fall semester.
Despite the student support for the University’s divestment, President Bollinger released a statement this morning expressing his opposition, stating that “The University should not change its investment policies on the basis of particular views about a complex policy issue, especially when there is no consensus across the University community about that issue.” This statement echoes that of President Beilock in April of 2018 regarding the College’s stance on not moving forward with a similar referendum approved by SGA and voted on by the Barnard student body. Beilock claimed that an institutional stance would “chill the discourse” of the subject and may impinge on the College’s standard of upholding students’ right to freedom of expression. According to university administration, the only way an institutional divestment could be implemented would be if the student body reached a consensus on the issue, and since less than half of the voting-eligible CC students participate in the 2020 divestment vote, it is unclear whether such a consensus exists.
The student group that led CCSC to pass the BDS referendum in November, Columbia University Apartheid Divest (CUAD), is the primary voice in the pro-divestment initiative. Other student groups in favor of the University’s divestment include Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace. As President Bollinger alluded to in his statement, the Columbia community stands divided on the issue, with pro-Israel groups such as Aryeh, Columbia/Barnard Hillel, and Students Supporting Israel staunchly opposing CUAD’s proposal. We will update this post with responses from these groups if/when they are released.
The referendum is not binding and President Bollinger’s statement makes clear that the Columbia administration will not take up the issue of divestment in the near future. Had they done so, Columbia would have been advised to divest its endowment from companies such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Elbit Systems, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Bank Hapoalim, and Mekorot.
Many of the positions for CCSC and ESC were also announced to students. The following students will hold positions in CCSC for the 2020-2021 school year after winning the listed percentage of the student vote:
The following students will hold positions in ESC for the 2020-2021 school year after winning the listed percentage of the student vote:
There are still several positions that remain vacant; these will be filled by appointment, with applications due Friday, October 2 by 11:59 pm.
The full text of the email from CEC and President Bollinger regarding elections and divestment is copied below.
Hello CC and SEAS,
Thank you for voting in our Fall 2020 elections last week. Please click here to view full election results for the CC Divestment Referendum, the Columbia College Student Council (CCSC), and the Engineering Student Council (ESC).
Columbia College students passed the Divestment Referendum, as the number of votes in favor of the resolution (61.04%) exceeded both the number of votes against and in abstention. 39.3% of eligible CC voters participated in the election, which exceeds the 30% voter participation threshold mandated in the CCSC Constitution.
If you’d like to become involved with CCSC or ESC, there are vacant positions on both councils that will be filled by appointment. Any student (including first-years) is welcome to apply here by Friday, October 2nd at 11:59PM ET.
Lastly, if you are interested in applying for the vacant Vice Commissioner position on the Columbia Elections Commission, please click here to learn more and apply. The application deadline is Friday, October 2nd at 11:59PM ET.
Please don’t hesitate to email cc.seas.elections@columbia if you have any questions.
Columbia Elections Commission (CEC)
President Bollinger’s full statement:
The Columbia College student body has voted to recommend that the University should divest from companies profiting from or otherwise supporting Israeli policy toward the Palestinian people.
At Columbia, questions about possible divestment of endowment funds are not decided by referendum but through a process involving the University’s Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing (ACSRI), which advises the President of the University and Columbia’s Trustees on policies related to ethical and social issues, and which includes students, faculty, staff, and alumni.
I made clear earlier this year that I do not support the referendum. To do so would contradict a long-held understanding that the University should not change its investment policies on the basis of particular views about a complex policy issue, especially when there is no consensus across the University community about that issue. Furthermore, in my view, as I have expressed many times over the years, it is unfair and inaccurate to single out this specific dispute for this purpose when there are so many other, comparably deeply entrenched conflicts around the world. And, finally, I have also raised concerns about how this debate over BDS has adversely affected the campus climate for many undergraduate students in our community.
Of course, I remain an unflinching proponent of robust debate over contested issues such as the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Such discussions and debates are part of the essential purpose of the University, and we should all welcome the critical thinking that so often emerges and leads to improvements in our world. But altering our endowment in order to advance the interests of one side is not among the paths we will take.
Editor’s Note: Deputy Arts Editor Adam Kluge will be the Gender & Sexualty Representative for the 2020-2021 school year and was not involved in this coverage.
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