July 15, 2024
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‘Ill-Suited’ Student Referendum Targeting Caterpillar Is Rejected by Princeton University

Because of a lack of consensus on campus and the issue being “ill-suited” to be decided by vote, Princeton University will take no action on a student referendum calling on it to stop using Caterpillar machinery for its campus construction projects because the company’s equipment is used by Israel against Palestinians.

The referendum results were rejected by University President Christopher L. Eisgruber after the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) became mired in controversy and confusion over how abstentions should be counted, ultimately leading to indecision over whether it was approved.

The April 11-13 voting on the referendum proposed by the Princeton Committee on Palestine resulted in it being approved by 44%, with 40% casting dissenting votes and another 16% abstaining. Initially the undergraduate student government said the abstentions would count as dissenting votes and then seemed to change positions after the vote, resulting in an appeal regarding the conflicting abstention information being upheld.

In light of that, USG did not send its usual position paper to the administration and left the matter up to the administration.

In a response to USG President Mayu Takeuchi and Secretary Charlotte Selover provided to The Jewish Link by the university, Eisgruber wrote: “The University’s standards emphasize that dissociation will occur only when rare conditions are met. The conditions require ‘considerable, thoughtful, and sustained campus interest’ typically extending over multiple academic years and, even more importantly for the subject of the USG referendum, circumstances in which ‘it is possible for the University community to reach a consensus on how the University should respond to [a] situation.’

“There is quite obviously no consensus on campus or in the broader University community about issues of Middle Eastern politics or what to do about them. The Council for the Princeton University Resources Committee (PURC) emphasized this point in 2014 when it rejected petitions seeking dissociation actions related to the Israel/Palestine conflict.”

The PURC’s faculty-student-staff committee had advised those petitioner to undertake actions “that are consistent with the fundamental character of the University as an academic institution, and that can merit broad support throughout the University” such as the development of courses, involvement in lectures, panels and other public discussions, research and scholarship on the issues.

Eisgruber’s response also pointed out that any dissociation decisions fall under the jurisdiction of the university’s board of trustees and not student government nor even the administration.

Eisgruber urged the USC to reconsider its procedural rules in the wake of the vote stalemate, adding, “Some issues are ill-suited to decision by referenda; that is one reason why the trustees, and the charter of the Council for the Princeton University Community, provide more deliberative mechanisms to consider issues such as dissociation. While referenda may at times provide useful information, the student body might be better served if the USG’s processes allowed for more deliberation about when and why a referendum would be desirable.”

Jared Stone, president of Tigers for Israel, the campus pro-Israel student organization, said regardless of the vote, the referendum was “symbolic” and would have no effect on campus life.

The resolution had requested the university “immediately halt usage of all Caterpillar machinery in all ongoing campus construction projects given the violent role that Caterpillar machinery has played in the mass demolition of Palestinian homes, the murder of Palestinians and other innocent people, and the promotion of the prison-industrial complex.”

Stone had previously told The Jewish Link that the referendum is part of “a bigoted global movement” that doesn’t help the Palestinians with any humanitarian issue and could jeopardize his safety along with the safety of other Jewish and pro-Zionist students.

There was spike in antisemitism in 2015 after a student referendum called on the university to divest “from multinational corporations that maintain the infrastructure of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank,” and another increase during last year’s Gaza conflict.

By Debra Rubin

 

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