Statement Regarding CISR Divestment Proposal – 12/12/16

Summary:

GU F.R.E.E. is a coalition of Georgetown University (GU) student groups, faculty members, and students who are concerned about GU’s investment practices and, specifically, the ways in which our $1.5 billion endowment may be contributing towards the perpetuation of state violence both within and beyond the United States. GU F.R.E.E. seeks to tackle our community’s complicity in state violence by calling for transparent access to GU’s investment portfolio, as well as calling for the divestment from any holdings GU may have in corporations affiliated with the U.S. private prisons industry and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. This statement is in response to the recently released Google Form courtesy of the Committee on Investments and Social Responsibility (CISR) inviting public input on a related divestment proposal. Despite GU F.R.E.E.’s reservations regarding the legitimacy of this unconventional mechanism of public engagement, we believe every member of our community has the right to voice their opinions regarding GU’s investments. GU F.R.E.E. therefore calls upon all members of our coalition, all of our allies, and everyone who shares our concerns regarding the University’s investment practices to submit a statement in support of our proposal to the Google Form provided by CISR.

Please direct any additional questions or media inquiries regarding this statement to: georgetown.free@gmail.com

Full Statement:

On October 12th, individuals affiliated with the GU F.R.E.E. campaign independently submitted a proposal to CISR. Although CISR can only issue non-binding recommendations to the Board of Directors regarding GU’s investment practices, it remains the only institutional framework available for community members who wish to have their opinions considered in GU’s investment decision-making processes. It is precisely with this spirit of engagement and open dialogue that our initial CISR proposal was submitted on October 12th, two months ago today.

Since then, GU F.R.E.E. has continued to grow as we engaged with various student groups and faculty members, amassing a broad coalition of constituents who share our concerns regarding GU’s potential complicity in the perpetuation of state violence. In turn, our initial proposal has undergone multiple revisions as we continuously work towards presenting the most accurate reflection of our coalition’s concerns, as well as producing the most comprehensive proposal to CISR and the wider GU community.

It is precisely these reasons that now leave us disappointed by CISR’s recent actions. Following our December 7th rally, CISR approached the original proposal’s authors regarding the public release of this document to the wider GU community for their input. In response, the authors requested that this process be postponed so that they could share with the GU community an updated version of GU F.R.E.E.’s current proposal after months of community-wide coalition-building. Moreover, given the fact that no previous CISR proposal has been subjected to a similar mechanism of public engagement, nor is this mechanism even mentioned in CISR’s bylaws, the authors requested a meeting with the Committee prior to the proposal’s public release to address their questions and concerns regarding this sudden procedural departure.

In return, CISR issued a notice in the Georgetown University Student Association (GUSA)  weekly email, inviting community members to submit a statement either for or against our October 12th proposal, the full scope of which was not attached to the notice, and was instead over-simplified and decontextualized. Whereas the original proposal provided both ethical and historical justifications for why we think it is antithetical to Georgetown’s Jesuit values for GU to remain invested in corporations in the U.S. private prisons industry and those that facilitate the Israeli occupation of Palestine; the CISR Google Form instead presented them simply as follows: divest the University’s endowment from ‘private prison companies and companies that support the private prison industry’  and companies that support ‘the occupation of Palestine’ by Israel (directly quoted from the proposal).”

The phrasing fails to provide any context on how state violence functions in both the U.S. private prisons industry and the occupied Palestinian territory, why these two manifestations of state violence are intimately related, as well as how GU’s complicity in the perpetuation of these violent systems directly contradicts our Jesuit values. To clarify, GU F.R.E.E.’s current platform tackles Georgetown’s complicity in state violence through the following three mechanisms:

 

  • Transparency: Georgetown University should release its investment portfolio in its entirety, and grant transparency to the student body and general public about its investment practices.
  • Divestment from Private Prisons: Georgetown should permanently divest any holdings it may have in the private prison industry that incentivizes the mass incarceration of Black, Latinx, Native American, poor and working class communities with profit.
  • Divestment from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory: Georgetown should permanently divest any holdings it may have in companies involved, consistently and knowingly, in severe ongoing international law and human rights violations in the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

 

Given that the original proposal’s authors explicitly asked CISR to postpone enacting this mechanism of public engagement, and requested a meeting before the Committee takes any further actions in this direction; CISR’s disregard to our correspondences and the authors’ wishes marks a breach of institutional trust. Reiterating the fact that previous CISR proposals have not been subjected to similar mechanisms of public engagement, the Committee’s unusual response to this particular proposal indicates to the GU F.R.E.E. coalition that there is a concerted institutional effort to treat this proposal differently from its predecessors, and therefore diminish its potential for objective consideration.

With that in mind, however, GU F.R.E.E. reaffirms our commitment to University-wide transparency, one of the pillars upon which our platform is based. GU F.R.E.E. welcomes CISR’s inclination towards transparency, although in future cases we hope that the Committee takes into consideration proposal authors’ consent. Nevertheless, GU F.R.E.E. is glad to observe CISR’s newfound willingness to productively engage with the GU community regarding investment decisions. Therefore, despite the way in which CISR has thus far dealt with our proposal, we remain committed to Forming a Radically Ethical Endowment at Georgetown University. We will continue working towards the ultimate goal of ensuring that our community is in no way complicit in the perpetuation of state violence.

It is with this sentiment that we call upon all members of our coalition, all of our allies, and everyone who shares our concerns regarding the University’s investment practices to submit a statement in support of our proposal to the Google Form provided by CISR. Despite GU F.R.E.E.’s reservations regarding the legitimacy of this unconventional process, we believe every member of the our community has the right to voice their opinions regarding GU’s investments. With the aforementioned features of our updated proposal in mind, we call upon all members of our community to provide statements in support of the GU administration taking serious steps towards eradicating our complicity in the perpetuation of state violence all over the world.  
Please direct any additional questions or media inquiries regarding this statement to: georgetown.free@gmail.com

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