A call for boards to divest from the Uyghur genocide (opinion)

Dear University Board Members,

America’s institutions of higher learning are the envy of the world and have always championed academic freedom and been valued defenders of human rights.

More than a year ago, I wrote to you in my capacity as former Under Secretary of State about the real and urgent threat to this ideal posed by the authoritarian influence of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). This threat has broad implications for ensuring academic freedom, honoring human dignity, protecting academic endowments, and safeguarding intellectual property. I wrote that as a former chairman of the board of trustees of a major university, I recognized that when it comes to tackling a strategic issue of this magnitude, the responsibility lies squarely with the shoulders of every board member and director.

Also, as a former CEO of public companies and non-profit organizations, I wrote a similar letter to the CEOs and boards of directors of all American companies as well as one to the leaders of the groups from civil society urging them to divest from Chinese companies that are “involved or implicated”. complicit in the CCP’s human rights abuses, surveillance state and military-civilian fusion. Many Chinese tech companies are involved in state surveillance and military-civilian fusion. Additionally, a 2020 report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute found “new evidence that some factories across China are using forced Uyghur labor as part of an government-sponsored labor transfer scheme. ‘State that taints the global supply chain’. The report identified 82 foreign and Chinese companies, including many well-known brands, that “potentially benefited directly or indirectly from the use of Uyghur workers outside Xinjiang through abusive labor transfer programs as well.” recently than in 2019″.

In my last letter as a public servant, I wrote to leaders of civil society organizations saying:

My experience in the business, education and government sectors tells me that there is enormous power in uniting these sectors as a force for good if we are all armed with the truth. The world is watching us, and the integrity of our democracy and our educational institutions is in our hands. Whether in the public sector, the private sector or as a private citizen, I look forward to continuing to work together to protect the freedoms we all hold dear.

In that same spirit of partnership, I write to you now as a private citizen in light of recent developments that affect your moral obligations and fiduciary duties as a trusted member of your university’s governing body.

Determination of Punishable Genocide

My previous letter highlighted the CCP’s human rights abuses aimed at eradicating the ethnicity and religious beliefs of Uyghurs and other Muslims in mass internment camps in China’s Xinjiang region.

Since then, the U.S. government has officially declared Chinese government abuses in the Xinjiang Genocide, determining in January 2021 that Chinese government authorities “are engaged in the forced assimilation and eventual erasure of an ethnic and religious minority group. vulnerable “. Around the world, the CCP’s atrocities against the Uighurs have been recognized as genocide by lawmakers in the Czech Republic, France, the United Kingdom, and a growing number of other countries.

The grassroots divestment movement answers the call

The bipartisan Athenai Institute, a student-founded nonprofit, has responded to this call for divestment from malicious Chinese companies by organizing a grassroots movement that is rapidly spreading across college campuses across the country. In its recent letter to the presidents and boards of America’s flagship public universities, the institute brought together an ideologically diverse coalition of political leaders, human rights groups, and student groups leaders, including the College Republican National Committee and the College Democrats of America, in calling for divestment.

Students from Cornell, Georgetown and George Washington universities and from the universities of Virginia and California in Los Angeles are already mobilizing to divest from companies complicit in atrocities against the Uyghurs. Last year, the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, began an audit of its endowment funds for all companies complicit in human rights abuses against Uyghurs after the student government passed to unanimously passed a resolution calling on the university to divest its financial assets linked to the genocide in Xinjiang. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Karna Lozoya, the Catholic University’s vice president for academic communications, said the university is working with a shareholder advisory firm, Institutional Shareholder Services, “to identify any companies involved in or benefiting from human rights violations, including exploitation of Uyghurs… At this stage, research has not identified any companies in which the university invests that are known to be involved in or benefit from Uyghur exploitation . »

Reminiscent of the anti-apartheid movement

This student-led divestment movement is reminiscent of the anti-apartheid movement that spread to 155 colleges after students at Hampshire College persuaded its trustees to divest all stakes in companies doing business in South Africa.

The academic anti-apartheid movement eventually led 90 cities, 22 counties and 26 states to take a stand against the South African government. As a result, many public pension funds have been forced to sell assets linked to South Africa. As the divestment movement gained global notoriety, Congress took various actions against the South African apartheid regime.

Congress joins the movement

Mark Twain said, “History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” Just as they did during the anti-apartheid divestment movement, members of Congress are beginning to target university endowments invested in the Uyghur genocide.

Recently, U.S. Representative Greg Murphy, a Republican from North Carolina, said, “Our colleges and universities that have been granted tax-exempt status don’t need to invest in this nation that wants to see our downfall. .” Legislation he plans to propose would target private universities with endowments over $1 billion, including Duke, Harvard and Yale universities and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, discouraging them from investing in “conflicting entities” listed on U.S. government sanctions lists. He also sent a letter to the 15 most well-resourced private universities asking them to purge their investment portfolios of “entities that support the imprisonment of Uyghur Muslims or aid the terrible invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation”. .

Universities are trusted institutions

American universities are among the most trusted institutions in the world. We trust universities to uphold our values ​​as free people, including the academic freedom that comes with it. In contrast, the CCP targets institutions like yours in order to plunder intellectual property, spread propaganda, and help fund its human rights abuses.

This is your chance to ensure that our universities uphold higher principles by deploying the power of scholarship. American universities have some $800 billion in total endowments, so their commitment to divest would not be merely symbolic, but would have real and genuine impact.

The grassroots Uyghur genocide divestment movement is growing, and as trusted leaders, we have an opportunity and an obligation to support our students. The leaders of the College Republicans and College Democrats best sum up this calling: “In the fight against authoritarianism, universities can continue to enjoy the largesse of an emboldened authoritarian state, or they can stand on the right side of the story. They can’t do both. »

About Vicki Davis

Check Also

Illinois State Golf Announces 2022-23 Scholarship Recipients

History links NORMAL, sick. – Illinois State Head Golf Coaches Ray Kralis …