SUA Chair Reviews Divestment Bill

519

By the time the final votes were tallied, the clock read 3 a.m. Arguably the most contentious bill in the last year had passed, and while supporters celebrated, opponents were silent, overcome by shock.

Student Union Assembly (SUA) Chair Shaz Umer recalled the immediate outcry from the bill’s opposition.

“I had several people come up to me and say, ‘Shaz, we’re going to question the votes,’” Umer said.

A week after the SUA voted to pass the University Socially Responsible Investment Resolution (USRIR), it has not been implemented. Following the controversial bill’s passage in the early hours of May 28, USRIR is currently on hold for review by Umer.

USRIR calls for UC divestment from five companies “complicit in the severe violation of Palestinian human rights” that work with Israel in its occupation of the West Bank, according to the resolution’s language.

“Those were the five companies and they are not necessarily Israeli companies,” said Committee for Justice in Palestine (CJP) representative Elaine Ejigu. “They are, however, companies that the UC is giving money and who also provide money for the occupation and for the violation of Palestinian human rights.”

Opposition to the bill was seemingly spearheaded by the Jewish Student Union (JSU).

“The language in the bill specifically targeted Israel,” said JSU president Daniel Bernstein. “[CJP] tried to bring it up as an issue of human rights versus our side saying it’s an issue of anti-Semitism.”

Bernstein added that the presentation of the bill was manipulative.

“I don’t know why they didn’t just call it BDS [boycott, divestment and sanction],” Bernstein said. “They put it on their t-shirts and that’s what they tweeted about. When they present it to SUA, all of sudden it goes from ‘boycott, divestment, and sanction,’ words that have a very negative connotation, to the ‘University Socially Responsible Investment Act.’”

Following the first vote at the May 28 SUA meeting, the bill failed. USRIR achieved only 61 percent of the vote — one vote shy of the 66 percent, or two-thirds majority, required for passage.

In an instance of 11th hour mobilization however, the failed bill would be reconsidered. Within five minutes, an SUA member in support of USRIR proposed a motion to suspend the SUA bylaw, or regulating law, that mandates a bill achieve two-thirds vote to pass.

By suspending the bylaw, USRIR would only require a simple majority — 51 percent — instead of a two-thirds majority — 66 percent — to pass.

The motion to suspend the bylaw passed by exactly a two-thirds majority — 24 in favor, 12 opposed. Following the bylaw’s suspension, USRIR was voted on a second time and achieved a simple majority and passed.

“Based on democracy in the real world, if you vote on something and it doesn’t pass and someone doesn’t like that you can’t just re-vote,” Bernstein said. “I was really considering as to whether I still wanted to go to UCSC after my student government, who is supposed to support me and support what the students would want, essentially failed me.”

Committee for Justice in Palestine (CJP) representative Elaine Ejigu said the bylaw’s suspension and the passage of USRIR was both legal and precedented.

“The SUA has done this multiple times this year for bylaws,” Ejigu said. “You can suspend a bylaw if you get a two-thirds majority vote from the senators and we passed that … so it was completely legal and so when it passed by a simple majority there really should be no problem with that.”

Following questions on the validity of the USRIR’s passage, SUA president Umer is holding the bill for review. He is considering contacting a consulting firm for help.

Supporters of USRIR denounced the hold and review, as they think it compromises the autonomy of the student government.

 “This [hold and review] is basically saying we have no power even in our own student government which is not supposed to be influenced by outside forces,” Ejigu said.

While Umer initially consulted the administration following the bill’s passage, he denied its influence in the decision making process.

 “As far as decision making, [the Dean of Students] has no authority in decision making. The entire decision making is on me as Chair,” Umer said.

The reviewing process will be done next week, Umer said, adding that recourse to a consulting firm would push his decision back.

“It all comes down to whether I’m going to have to bring someone from the outside,” Umer said. “If that happens, that’s going to delay the process.”

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story described the passage of the bill as “non-traditional.” That word has been removed, as it does not accurately describe the passage of the bill.

  • Matt

    As an alumni who helped write those bylaws many years ago, I’m disgusted a Chair is suddenly deciding he has the right to re-write them. Suspending the bylaws to pass something has been happening at least as early as 2010, if not sooner. Never before has a chair decided he can unilaterally override the voting body.

  • gilstein

    The BDS movement which is spearheading these divestment votes is dishonest, manipulative and racist. The vote demonstrates a lack of understanding of the situation and does not reflect well on the campus.