Letters to the Editors

Pros and cons

Dear Editors,

Re: “Prospecting the oil sands” (Oct. 23, 2009).

Regarding divestment from the oil sands debate, a basic analysis of costs versus benefits to Queen’s students has been misplaced.

Queen’s University is in a very tenuous financial position. The pooled investment and endowment funds for Queen’s had a market value of $800 million at the end of April 2008 and a value of under $600 million on Apr. 30, 2009. The decline in market value is one of the major contributing factors to Queen’s current budget deficit. This decreased income will affect the operating budgets for many years to come.

The cost of pursuing an action such as decreasing the diversification of these investment portfolios or limiting their flexibility could be drastic. The oil sands represent one of Canada’s major frontiers for economic growth. As energy prices increase, the valuations of oil sands companies have the potential to rise substantially.

Even if divesting these companies from the investment portfolio were to reduce the investment returns by one tenth of one percent, this would result in a decrease in portfolio value of $600,000.

Any changes to these portfolios may involve substantial management or transaction fees. There’s a direct, tangible and substantial cost to divesting these holdings from our investment portfolios.

As for benefits—two of the largest companies operating in the oil sands are Suncor and Royal Dutch Shell. Suncor has a market capitalization of $31 billion and Royal Dutch Shell has a market capitalization of $178.2 billion.

Even if Queen’s had direct and substantial investments in these companies, divesting these monies would go completely unnoticed by the market at large. The idea that withdrawing our investment would protect the environment or save lives is completely preposterous—these companies would continue business as usual.

The basis of any decision needs to weigh the costs versus the benefits. In this case, a tangible and direct cost exists to procure no meaningful benefit. If the stated goal of divestment is to send the message that Queen’s is a leader in working to mitigate environmental issues, then there are far more cost-effective ways to do it.

AMS Assembly made the correct decision in realizing the harm that QBACC’s plebiscite question could do to Queen’s reputation.

James Simpson, Artsci ’11

Right to education

Dear Editors,

Re: “West to the west” (Oct. 23, 2009).

During his talk on Oct. 20, Saed Abu-Hijleh elaborated on the ways Israel denies education to Palestinians living in the occupied Palestinian territories. It’s a denial of a human right specified in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Israel denies this right to Palestinians at will, which is well documented and not under dispute.

The concept of universality is central to the notion of human rights—if a person believes in the right to education, he or she believes in it for all people, especially the most marginalized. As a prestigious institution of higher education, Queen’s University is in a position where it can exert considerable pressure in defence of the right to education for Palestinians. The university’s previous two principals, however, chose not to do so.

In 2007, Karen Hitchcock responded to the call from Palestinian Civil Society for an academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions with a strong refusal. In her statement, she described her belief that the proposed boycott “is antithetical to the core value of academic freedom, which is cherished by Queen’s and other universities around the world.” At the end of the statement, however, she stated that Queen’s university would boycott the British University and College Union if it enacted an academic boycott of Israel, leaving her partisanship bare for all to see. She accepted the tactic of boycott in defence of the university’s institutional links with Israeli universities, but not in defence of the right to education for Palestinians.

On Dec. 28, 2008, Israel bombed the Islamic University of Gaza—an independent institution of higher education—causing extensive damage to university buildings. This attack was a part of Israel’s larger massacre in Gaza that killed approximately 1,200 civilians in a span of 22 days according to Amnesty International. Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights at Queen’s University (SPHR Queen’s) presented Principle Williams with a petition of over 200 signatures, asking for an official condemnation of this bombing. Principal Williams refused, stating that “the university is a place where no position should be the ‘official’ one.” The bombing of a university is the most blatant attack on the right to education imaginable, and if Queen’s can’t officially stand against such an act, what exactly can it stand for?

I write on behalf of SPHR Queen’s with the hope that Principal Daniel Woolf will prove himself to be a defender of the right to education for all—unlike his predecessors.

Kamal Reilly, ArtSci ’10
SPHR Queen’s

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