UBC president responds to Palestinian solidarity encampment’s demands

On May 16, UBC President Benoit-Antoine Bacon released a statement responding to each of the Palestinian solidarity encampment’s demands.

This comes after members of the encampment occupied the area near the UBC President’s Office in Koerner Library on May 15. Protesters demanded Bacon to publicly respond to their demands by May 16.

The encampment’s demands include divesting from companies complicit in violating Palestinian human rights, condemning genocide and scholasticide in Gaza, cutting ties with Israeli universities, keeping RCMP off campus and reaffirming Palestinians right to resist.

According to a United Nations-appointed independent expert, there are “reasonable grounds” to believe Israel is committing genocide and scholasticide in Gaza.

In the May 16 statement, Bacon reiterated his May 7 statement on divestment. Bacon said UBC’s endowment fund “does not directly own any stocks in the companies identified by the movement.” Instead, "capital is held in pooled funds and managed by external investment managers.”

The "identified companies," according to Bacon, account for about 0.28 per cent of the endowment fund — around $7.8 million of UBC’s $2.8 billion endowment.

Bacon also wrote that UBC has a responsibility to ensure everyone is safe on campus which, at times, has required the support of law enforcement.

“On the issue of campus safety and the role of police in protests, compared to what has been seen elsewhere, UBC has been measured and restrained in our response to the protests, and our aim is to continue to be,” wrote Bacon.

Protestors at other universities like the University of Alberta, University of Calgary and Columbia University have faced arrests and police confrontation. As of May 21, no arrests regarding the UBC encampment have occurred but students at the May 12 Robert H. Lee Alumni Centre vigil and the May 15 President’s Office sit-in have been warned of arrest for mischief under section 430 of the Criminal Code.

On boycotting Israeli universities, Bacon wrote that the UBC Vancouver and Okanagan Senate “make final decisions pertaining to academic matters.”

UBC has partnership agreements with Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. The encampment has also demanded UBC terminate its archeological excavation course in Israel.

At the May Senate meeting, Student Senator Jasper Lorien said they, along with 17 other senators, submitted a letter to call a special meeting of the Senate to discuss “the ongoing violence in Israel and Palestine and discuss a motion regarding suspending academic ties with Israeli government entities, including public universities.”

Clerk of Senate Chris Eaton said he will review the letter “to ensure that it meets the requirements.” Whether a special meeting will take place has yet to be announced.

On condemning the genocide in Gaza, Bacon wrote “universities have been increasingly asked by communities to take positions on events through institutional statements.”

“However, these world crises are complex and by definition evoke different emotions and can be interpreted in very different ways by different members of the community.” Bacon also wrote that the university “cannot presume to speak for everyone in matters external to its own operations” and students and professors will hold a “broad array of views.”

“University neutrality is not synonymous with moral relativism,” wrote Bacon. “All universities, by their very nature, stand strong against all forms of violence, exploitation, intimidation, discrimination, harassment or any other form of harm directed at individuals or groups on the basis of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or any other characteristic or label.”

Bacon also said UBC wants “to engage in discussions on these issues with UBC student representatives of the protest encampment, ” with VP Students Ainsley Carry serving as the lead liaison for these discussions. Carry attended the encampment’s rally on April 29, the Emily Carr University graduation protest on May 8 and spoke to students at the May 15 President’s Office sit-in.

“As such, like the rest of the world, we hope for a ceasefire and a lasting peaceful resolution in the Middle East,” wrote Bacon.

The Ubyssey did not receive a comment from People's University UBC by press time.