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MSU faculty, staff members write letter on concerns over Faculty Senate's divestment decision

April 16, 2024
Faculty senate members vote during the meeting on Feb. 13, 2018 at the International Center. The faculty senate voted no confidence in the board.
Faculty senate members vote during the meeting on Feb. 13, 2018 at the International Center. The faculty senate voted no confidence in the board.

Ninety Michigan State University faculty members have signed an open letter expressing their concerns to the MSU Faculty Senate over its decision last month against the resolution to divest from Israel's military campaign.

"Divestment from financial holdings that support and profit from the genocide in Gaza is in line with MSU's past leadership, its current mission, and the student body's position," staff members said in the letter. "The Faculty senate's rejection of the divestment resolution is not."

One of the members who signed the petition was sociology associate professor Stephen Gasteyer. As a Fulbright scholar who studied at Birzeit University, Gasteyer has gained over four decades of friendship with people there and several ties to Palestine.

Gasteyer spoke at the Faculty Senate meeting and expressed his disappointment over the resolution not passing. However, he said, faculty members also need to explain and clarify their positions further. 

"There's a sense among administration that we care deeply about the feelings of people who have contacts in Israel, that they're going to feel like we don't support their contacts in Israel," Gasteyer said. "And yet, not recognizing that very country is in the process of prosecuting a war that seems to be disregarding international norms and frankly, killing our friends and family members."

Billions of dollars are going into the Israeli military and creating a "dystopia" within Gaza, Gasteyer said. He suggested reinvesting to the communities at and around MSU and bettering the lives of people overall. 

"At least not be contributing to the problem," Gasteyer said. "We've chosen not to do that. ... We can either stick our head heads in the sand and dream of something different, or we can face that and put pressure on Israel to change and to try to find a path that actually does lead to peace."

English Associate Professor and Creative Writing Director Divya Victor said that she, alongside many other faculty members, was astonished by the senate's decision. Its reasons for going against divestment were "not sound," she said, and the decision goes against institutional values around Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. 

"Some faculty members perpetuated the myth that to divest from Israeli weapons manufacturers would be tantamount to forwarding anti-Semitic sentiments on campus," Victor said. "We think that it is possible to divest from Israeli weapons manufacturers, fossil fuels and various other deeply harm-producing enterprises without having that reflect on our views on anyone's ethnicity or race or religion."

In 1978, MSU decided to divest from Apartheid South Africa, according to the open letter. Victor said calling for divestments is part of people's moral obligations and her roles as a researcher, educator, faculty member and artist are not separate from her role as a global citizen. 

"As a person of conscience at a historical moment, I cannot be a bystander," Victor said. "I think many of us are already feeling the harmful experience of being so passive in the face of a failing democracy in the United States. I don't want my passivity in all the forces against Palestinian liberation."

Associate Professor in the Residential College in Arts and Humanities Sitara Thobani said a diverse, multi-ethnic and multi-racial group of faculty came together to write the letter, contrasting how open dialogue around global politics and history no longer exists.

"For a lot of faculty who are perhaps just now starting to learn about this, those connections have not kind of been made clear, simply because that possibility has been foreclosed," Thobani said. 

The decision to shut down divesting was disturbing, Thobani said, and as a result, made it difficult to continue the conversation. She remains inspired by the student activists who are pushing the MSU to do better. 

"Thinking about what it means to bear witness to this happening right now in real-time, before our eyes, there's a feeling of, 'what can we possibly do now?'" Thobani said.  "In that sense, that's what divestment represents ... making kind of the ethical statement in opposition to the scale of violence that we are currently witness to."

Assistant Professor of Religious Studies Shreena Gandhi said she assumed the resolution to divest would pass because it's the right thing to do.

"Where we invest, and how we invest, is a mirror to our values," Gandhi said. "I was just very disappointed, but that's a feeling I’ve gotten used to over the last six months. People are committed to things sometimes when it's convenient for them."

Gandhi added the faculty letter is a "little nail in the wall," but if the faculty senate and board of trustees take the divestment protests seriously, it would be because of the work of student activists. 

Several faculty members would suppress their own beliefs regarding equity and decolonization than be viewed as racist or anti-Semitic, Gandhi said. She encouraged faculty members to stand behind their beliefs and act as role models for students.

Gandhi emphasized the Faculty Senate to remember when MSU decided to divest from Apartheid South Africa. 

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"Let's be on the right side of history here and fully divest from oppression in all its many, many forms," Gandhi said. 

Gasteyar said being involved in signing the open letter is the the least he could do for his friends in Palestine. 

"I can't be there right now providing solidarity," Gasteyar said. "So, at least I can stand up and say something. We can write letters to our congressional members and to the President, but, ultimately, we need to do something locally. For those of us with those kinds of ties, at least for me, I have to stand up; that's what I have to do right now."

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