U of A to disclose, review investment policies after student and staff pressure

The University of Alberta will disclose and review its investment policies after weeks of increased pressure from staff, students and pro-Palestinian supporters following a multi-day encampment in May, which Edmonton Police Service dismantled.

But protesters with the Peoples' University For Palestine told CBC this is only the beginning of the action being demanded to stand in solidarity with the people of Gaza.

The group has four core demands, which include the disclosure of institutional and financial investments with Israeli institutions, divesting from these investments, defending the right to protest and declaring and condemning the situation in Gaza as a genocide.

In a note to the U of A community on Monday, university president Bill Flanagan said the board of governors unanimously passed a motion to disclose a complete list of the university's endowment pool investment holdings.

Flanagan said the services of an external organization, Canadian Shareholder Association for Research and Education, will be used to review policies and practices.

"As this review moves forward, the board is committed to a process of community consultation that includes engaging with faculty, staff and students," Flanagan said.

The university also said in its update it is also exploring how it can support Palestinian scholars and students displaced by the situation in Gaza and the rebuilding of the region's universities.

U of A student Maksen Hocine said in an interview that while this is an important development, it signals the need for further work.

"It is important to understand, especially for us, that this is not a definitive disclosure. This is a commitment to disclosure," said Hocine, who is also a member of the Peoples' University For Palestine.

"But commitments do not constitute reaching our demands ... And so what we'd like to see is this commitment then results in the direct action."

The university's actions in the removal of the protest encampment have been criticized by university staff and student associations. The arts faculty council also passed a motion of non-confidence on Flanagan's leadership after his handling of the student encampment.

Hocine said the university needs to follow its own policy on responsible investment. He said the university may be willing to disclose its investments but it needs to also be willing to acknowledge the real reason behind the call for disclosure, namely, the situation in Gaza.

"The university, as part of its policy of justice-based investments, is then obligated to declare that this is indeed genocide, and that is then why disclosure is so very necessary," said Hocine.

Abdul Abbasi, vice-president external with the U of A's student union, said this development by the university is needed to repair the relationship with staff and students.

"This is a crucial step forward and a first step toward transparency. There's still much work left to rebuild the lost trust with students."

Independent third-party review

The U of A also committed to proceeding with an independent third-party review of the university's decision to remove the Peoples' University For Palestine's encampment on May 11.

Following conversations with staff and students, Flanagan said in a public community note on May 23, "I want to acknowledge that calling for the assistance of the police has caused hurt and trauma for many university community members and beyond, especially those who have had harmful experiences with the police, including Black and Indigenous community members."

"Palestinian community members have also recounted to me their own experience of living under occupation and experiencing harm at the hands of police and military. I deeply regret the harm experienced by our community members as a result of the actions on May 11."

Videos taken by demonstrators on May 11, which were posted to social media, showed officers using batons and, at one point, gas started forming during the sweep.
Videos taken by demonstrators on May 11, which were posted to social media, showed officers using batons and, at one point, gas started forming during the sweep. (Instagram/University4Palestine.YEG)

Nour Salhi, a MacEwan student and organizer with the Peoples' University For Palestine, said more must be done to listen to student voices following the EPS encampment dismantling.

"Many of those students are still recovering from the effects of police brutality. So in order for U of A ... for any sincere action to be taken, we need to see that students are being listened to," Salhi said.

Salhi added "we hope that this will lead to further collaboration to ensure U of A's placement on the right side of history."