Columbia Protesters End Hunger Strike
But Divestiture Blockade Continues
NEW YORK-Five Columbia students fasting in protest of the university's stocks in companies that do business in South Africa ended their 15-days hunger strike last night after a 95-minute meeting with university President Michel I. Sovern.
Meanwhile, several hundred divestment activists continued their five-day-old barricade of Hamilton Hall, a main college administration building, and reiterated their promise not to leave until Columbia divests.
Although Columbia over the weekend obtained a court order which allows it to arrest and remove the protesters, and told them they face possible suspension or expulsion, there was no police action as of early this morning.
And in another major development, the demonstrators picked up endorsements from the anti-apartheid committee of the United Nations and the outlasted African National Congress (ANC). In a formal statement, the ANC also blasted Columbia's $34 million of investments-about 5 percent of its endowment-in companies that do business in "racist South Africa."
Morting With President
During the meeting between the fasters and Sovern-the first since they began the hunger strike-Sovern agreed to "convey their [the strikers'] concerns to the special committee of trustees studying South African investment policy," according to a statement released by the university at 8:30 p.m. yesterday. The 23-member board of trustees has final say over investment policy.
However, a Columbia spokesman said that Sovern and the strikers did not discuss the question of divestment of the blockade. The blockade has resulted in the cancellation of a number of classes which must in Hamilton Hall, and forced the various deans who work there to enter through a dingy under ground tunnel from adjacent Kent Hall.
Sovern, in a statement issued through the university press office, did not say when he would bring the demonstrators' concerns to the attention of the investments sub committee.
Fasters last Monday were rebuffed when they asked Sovern to let them address the trustees at their monthly meeting, and yesterday's meeting apparently marked the first time since Thursday that Sovern has spoken face-to-face with any of the protesters. In previous discussions between the demonstrators and Columbia, Sovern has sent intermediaries.
Divestment activists called the meeting a victory. "We have finally been recognized by Sovern. We have gotten him to take us seriously," said Rob Jones, a principal rally organizer. "The people [the strikers] are out of danger and back with us, and that is a victory."
Pale and exhausted, faster David Goldiner characterized the meeting as "a sharp exchange of opinions," and added "I am glad to get out and get involved in the protest again."
According to another striker, Laird C. Touessend, a 22-year-old senior from Mill Valley, Calif., Sovern said he agreed that apartheid hurts South Africa's 22 million Blacks, but said he feels American companies operating there can improve their plight. This position is basically the same as that of Harvard President Bok in opposing divestment.
University spokesman Frederick H. Knubel said Sovern decided to meet the group "out of concern for the students." In addition to the five who abstained from solid food through yesterday, two students stopped their fast over the weekend when they were hospitalized for dehydration.
Other protesters, although relieved that the strike is over, were skeptical about its outcome. "It is a victory for both the president and the protesters," said Columbia Junior Robert Miller.
"Sovern is a consummate politician. He has done two things by meeting with them; relieved the pressure of their protest and bought himself more time before confronting the real problem of divestment. Probably it is more of a game for the president than for the protesters, but then again, now at least they can eat, Miller said.
The meeting between the fasters and Sovern-the first since the hunger strike began-took place shortly before 6 p.m. in the nurse's lounge of St. Luke's Hospital. Columbia's Presbyterian Chaplain. H. Scott Matheney, acted as an impartial observer. Matheney was unavailable for comment.
Although the students continue to be monitored by the university health officials, they walked away from the meeting unaided. In a press conference later, they said they were happy with the meeting and vowed to continue the Hamilton Hall blockade "until the university divests."
In two other developments yesterday, several Columbia faculty organized a group supporting the strikers. At Barnard University, which has close lies to Columbia, students there met with President Ellen V. Putter to discuss Barnard's less than $1 million in South Africa-related stocks. Although Barnard administrators made no official statement on the divestment question, students who attended the meeting yesterday morning said they felt administrators are sympathetic to students' views