Dear Members of the Barnard Community:
I am forwarding a letter (below) I have sent to the Student Government Association (SGA) representative council regarding the results of its recent referendum on whether the College should be asked to divest any holdings from certain companies doing business with Israel. While it is important that the students have the opportunity to discuss the issues at hand, it is equally important to provide students with clarity on the College’s thinking prior to SGA discussions taking place this week.
We have also prepared a Q&A to provide context on the referendum and my letter below.
Sian Leah Beilock
Dear Members of the Student Government Association (SGA) representative council:
I write to provide input on the referendum that the Student Government Association (SGA) recently conducted and to be transparent about the actions Barnard College will take with respect to any request related to this referendum. You are of course free to continue your discussions on this issue, but it would be misleading to not provide you with clarity on the College’s thinking prior to the SGA discussions on this topic that I understand will take place this week.
For any referendum related to Barnard’s endowment to be considered by the Board of Trustees, it should meet two exacting standards. The issue under discussion must relate directly to Barnard’s mission, and there must be a clear consensus across the Barnard community that the recommended approach is the best means to address the issue at hand.
The referendum you are currently considering does not meet these two standards. First, taking an institutional stand amid the complexities of the Mideast conflict would risk chilling campus discourse on a set of issues that members of our community should be able to discuss and debate freely. Choosing a side therefore would be inconsistent with our mission. Second, there is clearly not consensus across the Barnard community on whether or how to address the issue. While a majority of students who voted support the referendum, this is less than 30% of Barnard’s student body. Thousands of alumnae have also voiced their opposition to the referendum. For these reasons, Barnard will not take action in response to this referendum.
It is imperative that all of us at Barnard work hard to foster a community in which difficult topics can be discussed in an environment free from fear and hate. I urge you to consider how SGA can best foster civil discourse moving forward across a range of complex issues so as to allow for the highest quality education and scholarship on our campus.
I wish you continuing success with your important work.
Sian Leah Beilock
President, Barnard College
Frequently Asked Questions – SGA Referendum:
What is the Barnard Student Government Association referendum on divestment?
Barnard’s Student Government Association (SGA) asked students to consider whether SGA should request that the College divest any holdings in certain companies doing business with the state of Israel. On April 18, 2018, SGA announced that the referendum had passed. SGA has not yet decided whether to make a formal request for divestment, and the referendum does not compel it to make such a request.
Did a majority of the student body vote in favor of divestment?
No. In the referendum, 741 students voted in favor of divestment, which is less than 30% of Barnard’s student body. Just under half of the student body voted, with approximately two-thirds of votes in favor of the referendum.
Has the College officially responded to the referendum?
SGA has not asked the College to consider divestment (see statement). The College is prepared to respond promptly if such a request is made. However, in light of SGA’s ongoing discussions on this issue, President Beilock sent a message to SGA representative council (above) clarifying the College’s position and shared it with the community.
What role does the College play in a student referendum?
Such referendums are conducted entirely by the student government; the administration is not involved. SGA is self-governing, and the administration does not craft or edit SGA statements. Student referendums are non-binding: the outcome of the vote does not ensure the SGA will act, and if it does, a request from the SGA does not compel action by Barnard College.
What has been the Barnard community’s response to the referendum?
The Barnard community, both on campus and in its alumnae body, holds diverse views on this topic. Student groups with varying views have made presentations and written about their perspectives. Alumnae and others have signed a petition criticizing the referendum and asking the College not to act on a request to divest, if the SGA makes one. Alumnae who have questions or concerns or who wish to share their viewpoints are invited to write to Barnard Alumnae Relations at [email protected]
Barnard students are held to the highest standards of discourse, debate and civility on campus. It is imperative that all of us at Barnard work hard to foster a community in which difficult topics can be discussed in an environment free from fear and hate.
Does the College have a policy about divestment?
Barnard considers divestment only when the matter under discussion relates directly to Barnard’s mission, and when there is broad consensus across the Barnard community that divestment is the best means to address the issue at hand. This has occurred infrequently throughout Barnard’s history.