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Group Wants UC to Cut Sudan Ties

Activists at UCLA cite the thousands who have died in Darfur to urge regents to divest from businesses with links to Sudanese government.

January 18, 2006|Rebecca Trounson | Times Staff Writer

Standing near a mock graveyard intended to commemorate victims of political violence in Sudan, a group of UCLA students and other activists on Tuesday urged the University of California's Board of Regents to divest from companies with business links to the Sudanese government.

In a news conference and rally on the UCLA campus, about a dozen students called on UC's governing board to "do the right thing" and vote for divestment when it takes up the issue this week. The regents are scheduled to begin a two-day meeting today at UC San Diego and are expected to consider the divestment issue Thursday.

"We're asking the university to divest completely from companies we've identified as doing business there," said Michael Garner, a fourth-year UCLA student who is a member of the UC Sudan Divestment Task Force, which includes about 100 students on various UC campuses. "The UC is a highly respected institution and we think UC divestment would send a powerful message to others to consider divesting."

In response to a student campaign that has continued for more than a year on the Sudan issue, a regents committee in November asked UC officials to return to the full board this month with a plan for possible divestment. UC Senior Vice President Joseph P. Mullinix on Thursday will present the regents with a range of options on the issue, including maintaining the status quo, writing letters of concern to various companies and complete divestment.

The university is estimated to have at least $100 million indirectly invested through index funds in firms with holdings in Sudan, but does not directly own stock in such companies.

UC spokesman Trey Davis said Tuesday he could not predict the outcome of any vote by the regents on the issue. "The regents have a general policy of making investment decisions based strictly on market and financial criteria," he said.

To press their cause, Garner and other students have spoken repeatedly at regents meetings, staged rallies and set up mock refugee camps to dramatize the suffering of civilians in the Darfur region of Sudan.

The United Nations has estimated that more than 180,000 people in Darfur have died from disease, hunger and fighting since a civil war began in 2003. Many of the victims are black Africans, believed to have died mainly at the hands of Arab militias backed by the Sudanese government.

In other issues, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is a UC regent by virtue of his state position, is expected to attend today's regents meeting to discuss his budget proposal for the university for the coming school year. Schwarzenegger recently announced a plan to cancel a scheduled fee increase for UC and Cal State University students for the 2006-07 school year, saying the state's improved economic outlook will allow the fees to be frozen at current levels. University officials and students have applauded the proposal, which must still be approved by the Legislature.

Regents also will consider several actions related to a continuing controversy about executive compensation, including the establishment of a compensation committee to keep better track of such spending and a preliminary report from an outside auditor. The university has been under pressure in recent months to improve its oversight of compensation practices, amid reports that it has spent millions on bonuses, relocation packages and stipends for senior executives in recent years, while raising student fees.

The Joint Legislative Audit Committee on Tuesday authorized an audit of the university's compensation practices, in response to a request from Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) and other legislators. In making the request, Nunez said UC officials had shown "flagrant disregard for the use of taxpayer dollars" in providing bonuses to executives.

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