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:: By Mary Ruth Yoe

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Chicago Journal ::

Darfur funds spark projects

Chicago’s funding of Darfur-related projects has led to internships, symposia.

In February 2007, announcing the Board of Trustees’ decision not to divest the University’s holdings (estimated at less than $1 million in direct investments) from companies doing business with Sudan’s government, President Robert J. Zimmer also announced a $200,000 fund to underwrite faculty and student research connected to the human-rights crisis in the country’s Darfur region. The fund, he told the Magazine (“Response to Darfur,” Mar–Apr/07), underscores “the seriousness with which the University takes the situation in Darfur and its belief in the time-tested truth that the University’s greatest social contribution is made through the efforts of its faculty, students, and alumni, in the context of the rigorous analysis and inquiry for which Chicago is known.”

Little more than a year later, that spirit of analysis and inquiry can be seen in the work supported by the Darfur Action and Education Fund. To date, a faculty-student committee chaired by Deputy Provost for Research Keith Moffat has been through three rounds of proposal reviews, with another round scheduled for spring quarter. Five proposals have received the go-ahead.

One project sent Jonathan Wildt, a second-year PhD student in the School of Social Service Administration, to South Darfur with the Education Development Organization. Helping to build an early-childhood education center in a displacement camp near Nyala, Wildt—supported by the University’s Darfur Education and Community Participation Project—plans to use his experience in future efforts to aid the conflict’s refugees.

The committee also supported four Human Rights Program summer internships. Added to 30 internships offered by the program—which helps place undergraduates with non-governmental organizations, governmental agencies, and international bodies—the new slots will go to students focused on Darfur.

The committee helped back three symposia, one of which will occur in the 2008–09 academic year. Harold Pollack, associate professor in the SSA, and José Quintáns, the William Rainey Harper professor in pathology and the College, have organized a series of nine public lectures on the biology and sociology of AIDS. With three speakers on health topics related to the crisis in Darfur, the series will run during the fall and winter quarters. 

This spring two events received funding: the first was an April 4–5 conference on genocide, keynoted by Ambassador Francis Deng, special adviser to the United Nations Secretary General for the prevention of genocide and mass atrocities. Cosponsored by the Center for International Studies, the International House Global Voices Program, and the Human Rights Program, the international conference attracted some 250 faculty, students, and community members. A May 31 conference, Humanities in Different Circumstances, will feature academics, artists, and intellectuals who live and work in Sudan—and is the culmination of a set of humanities faculty-student workshops, that, says organizer Barton Schultz, director of Chicago’s Civic Knowledge Project, focused on what it takes “for the arts and humanities to survive in very threatening circumstances.”

When the Darfur Action and Education Fund was created, those who had argued for divestment applauded the fund but took issue with the trustees’ decision, which cited Chicago’s long-held stance, articulated in the 1967 Kalven Report, of “not taking explicit positions on social and political issues that do not have a direct bearing on the University.” Some 1,500 students and faculty signed a petition arguing that Darfur fit the Kalven Report’s “exceptional instances” clause, cases when “the corporate activities of the University may appear so incompatible with paramount social values as to require careful assessment of the consequences.”

Campus members of STAND (Students Take Action Now: Darfur) vowed to continue to press for divestment, and this March, after meeting with some of the group’s members, Third Ward Alderman Pat Dowell, AM’80, took the cause to the Chicago City Council’s human-rights committee, offering a resolution criticizing the University’s decision. At a March 20 hearing, the committee listened to pro-divestment testimony from faculty, students, and community members—including Jamie Kalven (see “Civic Journalism”), son of the Kalven Report’s author. The group also heard from Vice President for University Communications Julie A. Peterson, who read a statement detailing the University’s decision-making process. “These deliberations revealed a diversity of opinion—from those who believed divestment was an important moral and symbolic stance, to those who questioned the effectiveness of divestment efforts,” she noted, going on to enumerate University actions in support of human rights globally, in the city, and particularly on the South Side.

When the resolution came before the full council April 9, 40 of the 50 aldermen voted, all in favor of denouncing the University for not divesting. “We respect and appreciate the council’s desire to take positive actions to try to influence the terrible situation in Darfur,” Peterson told the Chicago Maroon after the vote. “We do not agree, however, that divestment by the University of Chicago will have any significant impact on the situation there.” Rather, she argued at the hearing, the institution believes that its greatest influence lies in adhering to its core values: “The University of Chicago’s special role throughout history has been in creating an environment of open inquiry, in which the broadest possible array of ideas can be proposed and tested—this has been the source of our lasting and powerful impact on the world.”