Judy Genshaft says "we're willing to listen" regarding USF students' divestment petition

One of the largest student-led petition drives in Florida university history has taken place on the USF campus in Tampa, initiated by the USF chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine.

More than 10,000 have signed the petition calling on the school's endowment foundation to divest from companies involved in perceived human rights violations in the Palestinian territories.

"The students are very active and we're always willing to listen," USF school President Judy Genshaft told CL on Wednesday. "And the Foundation will make up their mind."  The Foundation is scheduled to meet in early June.

In our report on this story last week, a spokesman for the University said that the USF Foundation had not yet been presented with the petition, so it couldn't respond to it. "If and when a petition is presented to the Foundation, it will be reviewed and considered," Adam Freeman said.

The petition calls for transparency, ethical investment, and divestment. But critics like Rabbi Ed Rosenthal, director of USF Hillel, claim that those requesting signatures misled people, asking them simply to sign a petition supporting human rights.

Similar efforts to get university foundations to divest from companies that give to the Israeli government have been ongoing for years, but have picked up momentum nationally (and in some cases, internationally) over the past year, all part of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement, something that President Genshaft referenced when speaking with CL briefly on Wednesday. 

"I know that they're aware of the students' concerns," she said of the USF Foundation. "And this is not a local issue — this is a national issue. So we're always willing to listen."

"We do want to think they "will listen" to the 10,000 from their campus who are demanding human rights and asking for divestment," said Malak Fakhoury with the Students for Justice in Palestine. "It would be an utter shame for the collective voice of 1/4 of this university to be ignored and silenced by a powerful minority. We are looking forward to meeting with the distinguished men and women and speaking to them about the imperative efforts we have undertaken."  

Genshaft has not publicly commented previously about the petition, but has criticized the American Studies Association's endorsement of a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. A statement from Genshaft listed on the university's website says, "The boycott recently proposed by the American Studies Association (ASA) is antithetical to the core values of academic freedom and the open exchange of knowledge and ideas across institutions of higher education. Accordingly, I stand with the Association of American Universities, the American Council on Education, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, the American Association of University Professors and esteemed colleagues everywhere who oppose this improper call for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions."


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