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Students go on hunger strike to protest UF’s investment policies

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Posted: Thursday, April 10, 2008 12:00 am

Until they eat with Bernie, they won't eat at all.

Eleven members of a student-protest group urging UF to make its investments transparent dug into a vegetarian meal they said could be their last of the semester outside Tigert Hall on Wednesday.

The students said they plan to strike, or starve, until UF President Bernie Machen agrees to meet with them over lunch to discuss socially responsible investment plans for UF's $1.2 billion endowment. The meal Wednesday - steamed cabbage, fried plantains, rice and beans, and tempeh curry - was eaten after an 11 a.m. news conference outside Tigert, the building that houses Machen's office.

Members of the protest group, Students for a Democratic Society, have been pushing for disclosure of UF's investments for nearly a year. The group wants to create a committee of students and faculty to advise the Board of Trustees, UF's highest governing body, on socially responsible investing of UF's endowments.

The group's aim is a challenge to UF's current endowment policy, which leaves investment decisions up to UF's Investment Corporation, a non-profit organization exempt from open public-record requirements.

In November, Machen responded to a few of the protesters in a letter, writing that he could not endorse the group's suggestions because he believes in the trustees' current policies.

Richard Gutierrez, one of the protesters, said Machen's response patronizes students who worked to create the proposal, approved by more than 80 percent of students as a referendum question during spring Student Government elections.

Skeet Surrency, another protester, said when students are left with no other options but to deny their bodies of food, it leaves a poor comment on the university and its leader. Surrency said his fast, which will be limited to fruit and vegetable juice, would last as long as UF's investments are unknown.

"I've lost my taste for the crap that you've been feeding us this year," he said, addressing the UF administration.

Machen could not be reached for comment.

Gene Zdziarski, UF's dean of students, said he appreciates the students' passion, but he is concerned for their well-being. "I want our students to be healthy," Zdziarski said.

UF spokesman Steve Orlando said claims that UF's administration is not listening to the proposal is unfair. He said UF couldn't release its investment portfolio because it changes daily and contains trade secrets that would make UF lose its competitive edge.

"It's an agree-to-disagree situation I suppose," he said.

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