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UC Delays Sudan Investment Vote

Regents instruct fund managers to express concern to firms doing business in the ravaged nation, but postpone action on divestment.

January 20, 2006|Rebecca Trounson | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — University of California regents on Thursday stopped short of a decision to pull UC money immediately out of investments in Sudan but instructed their fund managers to express the university's concern about firms that have "significant business relationships" in the war-torn African nation.

The regents promised to revisit the issue in March, when they are expected to hear a detailed plan for divestment by a newly appointed task force that will include regents, faculty members and students. They could vote on the issue then.

The compromise was a partial victory for UC students who have campaigned for more than a year on the Sudan question, holding campus rallies and speaking repeatedly at regents meetings to try to persuade the university's governing board to consider divestment. The students have said the public university system should use its financial holdings as leverage to help stop political violence against civilians in the Darfur region of Sudan.

The Bush administration has described the situation, including assaults by Sudanese troops and allied militias against civilians in Darfur, as genocide.

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 blacks, believed to have died mainly at the hands of troops and Arab militias backed by the Sudanese government.

UC officials have said that the university does not have direct investments in companies involved in Sudan, but that its indirect investments in funds that include such firms in their portfolios range from $19.9 million to $2.6 billion, depending on the companies included.

After the vote, several students who have led the campaign said they had hoped for an immediate decision but were largely satisfied with the compromise.

They also vowed to keep up the pressure on UC leaders. "We'll be back in March," said Adam Sterling, a fifth-year UCLA student who co-chairs the UC Sudan Divestment Task Force. The group includes students at campuses across the UC system.

Earlier, speaker after speaker had urged the regents to divest from any holdings in companies with business links to the Sudanese government, saying such a stand could put the university at the forefront of a growing national movement for divestment.

Harvard and Stanford universities, along with the states of Illinois, New Jersey and others, have begun divesting funds from Sudan or restricting their investments in companies doing business there.

"The regents should choose a policy that goes well beyond rhetoric and lends momentum to a nationwide campaign that may very well be crucial to those still clinging to life in Sudan," said Jason Miller, a UC San Francisco graduate student who is also a leader of the student coalition.

About 150 students rallied outside the regents' meeting at UC San Diego. Carrying photos of victims of the violence in Sudan, they chanted, "No more dollars, no more dying!"

In his presentation, however, UC Senior Vice President Joseph P. Mullinix recommended that the regents formally voice their concern over any Sudan holdings to managers of their investment funds, but wait for the task force analysis before taking any further action.

Regent Norman J. Pattiz expressed frustration Thursday that the regents did not have enough information to vote, saying it was important to take a stand on the issue as soon as possible. "Every day that this goes on is a day that some of us feel unclean," he said.

Gerald L. Parsky, who heads the UC governing board, said the Darfur situation "cries out for action on our part" but said the regents also had an obligation to protect the university's investments. He said the discussion would continue in March.

In other action Thursday, the regents took steps in response to pressure from legislators and others to improve oversight of what critics say is excessive and secretive compensation for administrators. They gave final approval to a new policy that will allow regents to keep closer watch over severance packages given to departing executives.

The change, one of several steps that UC leaders say will eventually overhaul the controversial pay practices, will require all such agreements worth more than $100,000 to be approved by the governing board.

They also approved an interim salary structure for senior executives that gives the UC president and his staff new authority to approve raises within set ranges for specific jobs. Under the previous policy, regents had to approve salary increases for those paid more than $168,000 a year -- a system that UC officials have said was inefficient.

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