Tuesday, May 21, 2024

MSU board to review university investments following calls for divestment from Israel

February 2, 2024
MSU students react to a student's speech during a MSU Board of Trustee's meeting in East Lansing, Mich., Feb. 2, 2024. The Board of Trustees fielded comments from the public, including the divestment of the university's assets from Israel.
MSU students react to a student's speech during a MSU Board of Trustee's meeting in East Lansing, Mich., Feb. 2, 2024. The Board of Trustees fielded comments from the public, including the divestment of the university's assets from Israel.

The Michigan State University Board of Trustees finance committee will review MSU's financial investments, following continued calls for the university’s divestment from Israel at Friday’s board meeting

Board chair Rema Vassar said the next board meeting will be in April and there will be a finance meeting before that where the committee will discuss investments. The effort will be led by the board's finance committee chair, trustee Sandy Pierce

Several public commenters accused the trustees of being complacent in genocide at the meeting, and chants calling for divestment interrupted the chairperson's report. Tensions escalated to the point where one student was almost removed from the meeting by police

Arts and humanities senior Alissa Hakim attempted to speak on behalf of Hadeel Rass, whom Hakim said was unable to attend due to COVID-19 symptoms. Board secretary Stefan Fletcher told Hakim she could not speak on someone else's behalf, according to board policy

“Please sit down and not disrupt the meeting,” Fletcher told her, causing an uproar in the audience.

Fletcher called security to remove her, but police were stopped short by Vassar.

“Just wait, just wait,” Vassar said. “Let her talk.”

Members of the audience started chanting “Let her speak!”

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The board then informally let Hakim speak

“You must take student demands into serious consideration and act,” Hakim said. “Your Arab and Muslim students cannot be continuously failed and rejected.”

Associated Students of MSU, or ASMSU, President Emily Hoyumpa said the incident didn’t sit right with her.

“It should go without saying that cops shouldn't try and stop a student when they're speaking,” Hoyumpa said during her student liaison speech

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During public comment, Hakim was one of several students to call on the board to divest from all investments that support Israel including direct aid to Israel, weapons manufacturers and international investment groups such as BlackRock.

Saba Saed, vice president of the Arab Cultural Society, said the university was the first to divest from apartheid South Africa and said the same should be done for Israel given recent violence.

“To divest from apartheid once means you must continue to divest from apartheid, especially in times like this,” Saed, who is Palestinian, said

As of June 30, 2023, MSU has $218.1 million invested in three BlackRock funds: BlackRock Emerging Companies, BlackRock Strategic and BlackRock Systematic China Absolute Return according to the MSU list of investments. The organizers of the demonstration argue that those investments, alongside an additional $363.8 million invested in BNY Mellon, are funding weapons manufacturers involved in the Israel-Hamas war

Additionally, MSU has $236,114 invested in Israeli aid as well as $479,006 invested in weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin

MSU spokesperson Mark Bullion said that while MSU does own U.S. treasury bonds that were issued to fund Israeli aid, “the university purchased these bonds in March 2023, well before the current conflict.”

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On Oct. 7, 2023, the militant group Hamas attacked Israeli towns, killing about 1,200 and taking civilians hostage. Since then, the Israeli Defense Force has attacked the Gaza Strip, killing more than 26,900, according to the AP

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Pierce said at the end of the meeting that the board's finance committee will review the university’s financial portfolio

After her announcement, someone from the audience called out, "do it with students in the room." The sentiment was echoed by other participants

Trustee Brianna Scott said she is looking forward to a review of the investments.

"We appreciate that you all have brought these things to our attention," Scott said. "I will look to our budget and finance committee and our investment advisory committee that would be dealing and in taking a look into that." 

Six individuals called on the board to divest from MSU, but sophomore Owen Connolly said the group represents a larger desire for change

“We may seem like a small group of students pushing for radical change, but my peers and I represent a much larger population of students who have done their research and put their careers on the line to improve this amazing university,” Connolly said, addressing the board

“I never imagined that I would ever come face to face with war criminals,” Purani Murukathas said to the board. “You boast values of diversity and inclusion and you claim to care about your marginalized students. However, you turn around and fund genocide whether it can fill your pockets. Your promises and values mean nothing.” 

McKenzee Kositzke called for the university to provide more supportive resources to Palestinian, Arab and Muslim students, divest from Israel and pass a ceasefire resolution.

"We are a university that provide prides themselves on community amongst a lot of students and fans, yet we seem unable to provide those same ideals to the community of our student bodies being inordinately affected by these investments," Kositzke said.

“Now, with over 30,000 (Palestinians killed), with the numbers increasing daily, I think about how that is one less person who shares my blood, my culture, my history,” Saed said.

Vassar, during her chairperson's report that followed public comments, said she appreciated the students' bravery.

"It's not landing on deaf ears, or a hard heart," Vassar said. "But I'm one person, so I'm here to listen and I always will be."

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