SG Assembly

Clockwise from top left, Kallen Dimitroff, government junior and University-wide representative, Mohammed Nabulsi, law student, law school representative and co-author of the resolution, Mukund Rathi, computer science senior and co-author of the resolution and Jonathan Barak Dror, economics sophomore and University-wide representative debate the passing of the divestment resolution at the Student Government meeting Tuesday evening.

Photo Credit: Mariana Gonzalez | Daily Texan Staff

After weeks of contentious debate, the Student Government Assembly voted against a divestment resolution which would have asked the UT System Investment Management Company (UTIMCO) to pull investments from five corporations that the resolution claimed “facilitate in the oppression of the Palestinian people by the State of Israel.”  

The Assembly voted against the resolution by a 11–23–1 vote Tuesday night.

The resolution asked UTIMCO to divest specifically from Alstom, Cemex, Hewlett-Packard, Procter & Gamble and United Technologies because of “human rights violations,” according to the resolution. 

University-wide representative Santiago Rosales said he voted against the resolution because he thought it was too divisive to support.

“I do not mean to say that either side is divisive in itself but rather that the approach of [the resolution] is divisive in nature,” Rosales said. “This student government has taken unified approaches of bridging differences in this campus, bringing students together to bring meaningful change.”

After the vote, many students who had lobbied in support of the resolution protested outside of the Assembly room, voicing opposition to the decision. University of Texas Police Department officers came to monitor the scene.

English junior Josephine Lawson, a co-author of the divestment resolution, reacts with other students after the Assembly did not pass the resolution. Mariana Gonzalez | Daily Texan Staff

UTIMCO CEO and CIO Bruce Zimmerman said the company makes investment decisions solely based on the financial interest of the University and so would not have taken the resolution into consideration even if it had passed.

“The current policy is not to take into account political and social considerations,” Zimmerman said. “That’s a long standing policy, and it’s a policy supported by staff.”

Mohammed Nabulsi, SG law representative and an author of the resolution, said the authors wanted to pass the resolution despite UTIMCO’s stance on divestment based on political and social issues.

“What we’re doing with this resolution is saying, irrespective of what [UTIMCO has] already said, our student body continues, continues, continues to support divesting from human rights abuses,” Nabulsi said. “This is just following in line with other resolutions Student Government has
already passed.”

The 2010–2011 SG Assembly passed a resolution asking UTIMCO to revise its policies to include consideration of social policy. The divestment resolution also cited precedent from the 2014–2015 SG session, during which the Assembly passed a resolution calling for divestment from companies that facilitate genocide in Sudan.

The resolution was based out of a national boycott-sanctioning-divestment, or “BDS,” movement started by Palestinian human rights groups. Nabulsi told the Texan on April 9 that Unify Texas, a student organization opposing the BDS resolution, does not understand the BDS movement.

“Unify Texas relies on a mischaracterization of BDS and our goals here on campus in order to make a straw man argument,” Nabulsi said. “BDS is a step towards leveling the negotiating playing field so that the Israeli government is forced to take Palestinian demands seriously.”

Earlier Tuesday, 17 former SG presidents and vice presidents sent a letter to the current Assembly, asking them not to vote in favor of the resolution.

“As our former student body presidents have said — the people who care most about our University — it is not our place to support this philosophy,” University-wide representative Kallen Dimitroff said. “The alienation it would cause certain groups on campus, the stance and precedent it would set for student government, would be very detrimental.”

Carmel Abuzaid, a international relations and global studies freshman and supporter of divestment, said passing the resolution would specifically recognize the oppression she and other UT students have experienced in Palestine firsthand. 

“Passing this resolution would not only recognize my experiences as valid but would also unify the University against injustice and oppression,” Abuzaid said.

Maya Russo, an international relations and global studies sophomore who spoke in opposition to the resolution, said she felt personally targeted. 

“This is not a human rights legislation, nor is it one that promotes justice. This is an anti-Israel legislation,” Russo said. “This hateful rhetoric that is directed at my people and at me personally is one-sided. … This is a step in the wrong direction toward the ultimate objective — peace.” 

 

Student Government Executive Alliance candidates Xavier Rotnofsky and Rohit Mandalapu filed a resolution to SG on Friday supporting the removal of the Jefferson Davis statue on campus.
Photo Credit: Ellyn Snider | Daily Texan Staff

Xavier Rotnofsky and Rohit Mandalapu, candidates in the Student Government Executive Alliance runoff, filed a resolution to SG on Friday that would support the removal of the Jefferson Davis statue on campus.

Braydon Jones, who is running against Rotnofsky for the presidency, was one of the resolution’s three co-sponsors.

“We might be one of the first candidates to author a resolution that will go to Assembly,” Mandalapu said. “We want to leave our mark, regardless of whether we win.”

The statue’s removal was one of Rotnofsky-Mandalapu’s original platform points. Rotnofsky said the team did not want to wait until after the election to start lobbying for the statue’s removal.

“To put him on a pedestal, quite literally, is wrong,” Rotnofsky said.

The statue’s presence on campus has sparked controversy in the past because of Davis’ status as a Confederate leader. Last weekend, the statue was temporarily defaced with the word “CHUMP” written on the statue’s base in blue chalk.   

“Whereas, Jefferson Davis argued vociferously that the institutions of American slavery were beneficial; and ... whereas, The University of Texas at Austin as a public institution of the State of Texas that represents a diverse student population should not condone or promote Jefferson Davis’ values that are offensive to the student body … be it further resolved, the University of Texas at Austin Student Government fully endorses the removal of the Jefferson Davis statue from campus,” the resolution read.  

Rotnofsky and Mandalapu, who wrote the resolution with Chris Gilman, editor-in-chief of the Texas Travesty, and Plan II senior Ciaran Dean-Jones, also cited historical precedent for altering campus symbols that “do not align with the values and ideals of the student body.”

In 2010, at the request of UT President William Powers Jr., the UT System Board of Regents unanimously voted to rename Simkins Residence Hall to Creekside Residence Hall. The hall was originally named for William Simkins, a UT law professor and Confederate solider who was also a Florida Ku Klux Klan leader.

After three pages of factually-based arguments in favor of the statue’s removal, Rotnofsky and Mandalapu also cited former Nickelodeon show “Drake and Josh.”

“Be it resolved, that Drake and Josh was one of Nickelodeon’s most celebrated TV shows…they would have never supported a Jefferson Davis statue on the program,” they wrote.

Jones, who is currently speaker of the SG Assembly, said the resolution ties into his campaign, although it was not a part of his and his running mate Kimia Dargahi’s official platform.  

“I think it’s a perfect example of what our campaign stands for,” Jones said. “I think it’s a great example of listening to students. Now we’re going to look into what students want. … I’m looking forward to the conversation.”

Dargahi is not currently in SG but served as the federal relations agency director in 2013. Neither Rotnofsky nor Mandalapu are currently involved in SG. Any University student is allowed to author a resolution.

The resolution will be presented to the SG Assembly on Tuesday and sent to a committee after. If the committee approves the resolution, the Assembly will vote on the resolution in the coming weeks.   

“With all the talk that has been going on, with all the attention that [Xavier and Rohit] brought to this issue, I think this is a great time,” Jones said.