Following Review, Divestment Bill Fails Over Technical Error

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Following a 17-day review by Student Union Assembly (SUA) president Shaz Umer, the University Socially Responsible Investment Resolution (USRIR) failed due to a technical error.

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.

On May 28, the bill passed in SUA after the assembly voted to suspend a bylaw, or regulating law, and effectively lowered the requirement for passage from a two thirds majority — 66 percent —to a simple majority — 51 percent.

Compelled by outcry from the bill’s opponents, Umer held USRIR for review on May 30, concluding three weeks later on June 17 that the incorrect bylaw had been suspended and the bill’s passage was invalid.

“I was reviewing my notes for the meeting and I was actually trying to reference the [suspended] bylaw,” Umer said. “I went back to reference it and I realized ‘Oh man, we suspended the wrong portion of the bylaws.’”

Umer assigned collective blame for the blunder, owing the error to the meeting’s late hours.

“We didn’t start discussion until 11:30 p.m.,” Umer said. “At that time we had just discussed our budget for four hours. So we went from fiscal item to a very contentious item that was very draining for the assembly members.”

Yet a press release signed by six student organizations asserts that the mistake was Umer’s, who cited the incorrect bylaw during the SUA meeting, before the assembly voted to suspend it. According to the statement, the voting members of SUA understood the intended bylaw and voted in affirmation to suspend it.

“If there was any mistake regarding which section the SUA voted to suspend, it was the fault of the chair for citing the wrong section,” the press release stated. “Regardless, Umer decided to claim the bill failed because of his own mistake, even though he has no power to do so.”

The press release contends that Umer’s technical error should not defeat the will of the assembly, maintaining that the bill has passed according to the SUA constitution.

“[Umer’s] attempt to bypass the clear intent of the assembly is a disservice to student democracy,” the press release stated.

The statement further suggests that Umer’s past association with pro-Israel groups on campus may have influenced both his conclusion to fail the bill and his initial decision to hold it for review three weeks earlier.

During the three week review, Umer said he found the original grievance by opponents — that the bylaw suspension to lower the voting requirement was unconstitutional — to be unsubstantiated.

“It was right, it was legal,” Umer said.

However, when he realized that the incorrect bylaw had been suspended prior to the bill’s passage, Umer recalled a sense of relief at the unambiguity of the error, which he said left little room for attacks on his judgement.

“If it came down to interpretation, it may have looked like I was against the bill or for the bill and that’s when I would have gotten into a mess,” Umer said.

Committee for Justice in Palestine representative Elaine Ejigu expressed mistrust in Umer’s actions but satisfaction in the debate stimulated by the issue.

“The main purpose is to get the dialogue going on campus and to inform more people,”  Ejigu said.  “The more we were able to do that, the more successful we were.”

 
Related Article: SUA Chair Reviews Divestment Bill by Daniel Becker