Burmese holdings decision delayed

by Emily Dalnodar

The University’s Social Concerns Committee declined to pass a recommendation Thursday on whether to divest stock from a controversial oil company.
Total Oil Co. is a French-based company working in Burma, a country in southeast Asia. In 1988, a military regime seized power and the country became the focus of international controversy, prompting other companies to pull their business out of the country.
On the University front, there have been protests for the divestment of the University’s stock in the company since last winter.
Reasons for the committee’s delay include a lack of information from the other side of the controversy.
“We still have some issues to address,” said Eric Bauer, chair of the committee and professor in cell biology and neuroanatomy. “We need some representation from people like Total or Unocal.”
The meeting was supposed to be the last stop before the divestment issue went to the Board of Regents.
For two months, the Minnesota Free Burma Coalition sent the committee information about the situation in Burma.
“I don’t believe that that’s what they need,” said Mick Schommer, member of the Minnesota Free Burma Coalition.
The coalition tried to stay in contact with the committee by e-mail and phone calls throughout this process, said Drew Hempl, founder of the Minnesota Free Burma Coalition.
Hempl said communications from the committee dropped off about two weeks ago. Everything was going fine and then all of a sudden no one returned phone calls or e-mails, he said.
“This is a tactic, in my opinion, to confuse the issue,” he said.
But it does seem as though some members are leading towards divestment, Bauer said, noting the committee is still somewhat divided because of a lack of more information.
“I particularly think we should (divest), but not everybody in the committee feels that way,” Bauer said.
Although there is not a consensus from the committee, Hempl said he believes that once more information is provided, recommendation for divestment will pass.
While the issue is on hold from within the committee, the coalition is preparing to keep up their efforts to educate and lobby at the University level.
It will be another month before divestment is discussed again. The next meeting is scheduled for March 5.