Photo Credit: Beyond My Ken / Wikimedia
Barnard Hall, originally called Student's Hall, on the Morningside Heights campus of Barnard College in Manhattan, New York City, was built in 1916-17 and was designed by Arnold Brunner

The president of Barnard College has rejected the results of the recent student referendum on whether the college should divest its holdings from firms doing business with Israel.

More than 60 percent voted in favor of divestment: those who voted heard a slanted presentation on the issue from a supporter of the BDS (Boycott, Divest & Sanctions) campaign against Israel, voted to divest from eight companies involved with Israel. However, just under half of the entire student body voted; approximately two-thirds — 741 students, less than 30 percent of the student body — voted in favor of divestment.

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Barnard College President Sian Leah Beilock sent an email to Barnard Alumnae with an update on the decision in response to a petition expressing outrage over the referendum, and vehemently opposing divestment. The petition was initiated within hours after the referendum vote.

“Dear Members of the Barnard Community:

I am forwarding a letter 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.”

Beilock’s letter to the Student Government Association was somewhat longer and in addition to its courteous style, dryly “clarified” that regardless of what “actions” the council might decide, the college “will not take action in response to this referendum.”

The letter was followed by Frequently Asked Questions about the SGA Referendum, with entirely enlightening answers. Recommended reading.

“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.”

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