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SUNY trustees vote to divest

By JON FLEMING

ALBANY, N.Y. -- The trustees of the State University of New York, the nation's largest university system, voted to divest $11.5 million in stock over the next year in companies doing business in apartheid South Africa.

Students clapped, cheered and hugged one another following the trustees' vote to divest its $11.5 million worth of holdings in 12 companies, including IBM, Ford Motor Co. and Eastman Kodak.

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'I feel very strongly that my country and my state university should not be a part of that moral outrage that's occurring in South Africa,' said trustee John Holloman of East Elmhurst. 'We must divest and the time is now.'

About 100 students demonstrated outside the SUNY administration building as the trustees approved divestiture of the nation's largest public university system -- comprising 370,000 students and 64 campuses. The students assembled in front of a black coffin painted with the slogan 'Apartheid kills.'

The students cheered when told of the trustees' 9-4 vote. Student leaders then led the group to the Capitol, where they hoped to visit legislative leaders to urge them to sell the state's $4 billion worth of investment in companies operating in South Africa.

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The trustees debated the divestment resolution only briefly before voting. The issue was thoroughly discussed during a meeting Monday of the trustees' Investment Committee, which includes the majority of the trustees. The Investment Committee approved the resolution 7-4 Monday.

'The government of South Africa is eventually going to tumble,' said trustee Victor Marrero of New York City. 'It is more prudent to not be there when the guns are fired.'

Several trustees opposed the resolution, arguing the state should use its investments to pressure American corporations to work toward social reforms in South Africa.

'Sanctions seem to have worked,' said trustee Darwin Wales of Binghamton. 'To tell American companies to get out is preventing, I think, meaningful negotiations' to bring about reforms.

Since 1977, 54 colleges and university have divested an estimated $251 million from companies operating in South Africa.

Gov. Mario Cuomo has favored state divestment, which would affect about $4.4 billion invested in the state pension fund and teachers' retirement fund.

When asked about the trustees' action, Cuomo said he would prefer a single law covering all state investment. 'I'd rather work on a state bill than give advice to SUNY at this point,' Cuomo said.

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