Senate calls on Syracuse University to promise divestment from for-profit prisons

Daily Orange | By Sara Swann

Members of the University Senate passed a resolution on Wednesday calling for Syracuse University officials to publicly commit to not investing in for-profit prisons.

Jackie Orr, an associate professor of sociology, and Janice Dowell, graduate director and professor of philosophy, gave a presentation to senators on for-profit prison divestment and why it would be significant for SU to make a public statement.

As of February 2017, SU had no direct investments in for-profit prison companies or their major suppliers, Dowell said. But it’s unclear what the university’s current status is, she said, so SU making a public statement on the issue could remove confusion. Dowell added that she does not believe SU is invested in for-profit prisons, but confirmation would be appreciated.

Commitment to divestment from for-profit prisons would have little financial impact on the university, Dowell said. As of June 2017, SU’s endowment was about $1.29 billion.

By making a public statement, Dowell said SU would help bring attention to the issue of mass incarceration in the United States and how for-profit prisons contribute to that problem.

“We’re asking the university to put a ring on it, make (the divestment) status public and official,” Dowell said.

By passing the resolution, SU joins several other universities, including Georgetown University, Columbia University, Hampshire College and the entire University of California system to make its investment status public, according to the resolution.

In December 2016, Syracuse Divest, a group of SU students and faculty, requested information from the university regarding its status of investment in for-profit prisons and their major suppliers, Orr said.

A few months later, with continued persistence from Syracuse Divest, the university confirmed it had no investment in the for-profit prison industry at the time.

This semester, the university’s Graduate Student Organization unanimously passed a resolution supporting Syracuse Divest’s efforts to garner a public statement from the university on the matter, Orr said. Dowell also discussed for-profit prison divestment at a Student Association meeting last semester.

After Orr and Dowell’s brief presentation during the Senate meeting, a few professors asked questions about wording or specific facts included in the resolution. Others attempted to redirect the focus back to voting on the resolution, rather than debating some details.

Tom Perreault, a geography professor, shared his personal experiences during the meeting and related them to the divestment resolution. He said that when he was a student at the University of Colorado, he advocated for the university to divest from South Africa and the Apartheid regime.

“At the time people quibbled about the wording and said one university is not going to make a difference,” Perreault said. “But I don’t think there is anyone now who would argue we were on the wrong side of history. It’s time to take a moral stand on this issue and I am in strong favor of this resolution.”

With 73 percent of the vote approving the resolution, the resolution will now be sent to the Board of Trustees for action.

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