U Administrators Block Faculty Efforts to Address Climate Change

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On May 25, the University of Massachusetts proudly announced it had become the first major public school to divest from fossil fuel equities. This decision came in response to threats posed by global climate change. The divestment is consistent with the school’s principles and reflects the university’s commitment to addressing the threat, according to UMass President Marty Meehan. “Important societal change often begins on college campuses and it often begins with students,” he said. “I’m proud of the students and the entire University community for putting UMass at the forefront of a vital movement.”

By going against the grain of corporate and financial interests, UMass has demonstrated a serious commitment to dealing with climate change, something that has been described as the most pressing issue of our time. The school’s decision to become the first to divest from fossil fuels is commendable and will likely go down in history.

The U was one last-minute, closed-door decision away from claiming this historic title for itself. On May 2 — nearly a month before UMass announced its decision — the U Academic Senate narrowly voted to increase the school’s “institutional use of socially responsible investments” by divesting from fossil fuel equities. However, the decision was later reversed by the Board of Trustees at a meeting in June, which was closed to the public. A statement released by President David W. Pershing said the board was concerned divestment was not the appropriate way to deal with climate change. “Like many other major universities around the country, we are not convinced that divestment from fossil fuel-heavy funds in the next five years, as the Senate has recommended, is the best method for addressing these challenges,” the statement read.

Instead of becoming a leading force in the fight against climate change, the U has shamefully added its name to the growing list of schools whose administrators have ignored faculty and student concerns in favor of diplomacy and out of fear of disruption.

The decision follows a recent string of actions taken by administrators that indicate the school may not have the full interests of students and faculty at heart. One example of this is the “phased retirement” contract offered to Terry Tempest Williams, a world-renowned environmental scholar, who ultimately decided not to sign the contract. This resulted in her departure from the U, a place she contributed to — and considered home — for years. While conflicts between professors and administrators are inevitable, explicitly ignoring faculty opinion is disrespectful. Faculty input is a valuable asset that reflects the sentiments of students, as well as the university as a whole; and should be considered in any conversation regarding school resources.

Putting a halt to fossil fuel investment is a tough move. Utah is a state with historic and cultural ties to the coal and mining industries, and this should undoubtedly be taken into consideration when considering divestment. Utah is also known for housing some of the most beautiful and sought-after ski slopes, mountains, monuments and national parks in the world. This makes our state unique and helps sustain its economies through tourism revenue. We shouldn’t let cultural ties to an outdated form of energy stop us from protecting the landscapes that make Utah so enjoyable and appealing.

The severity of climate change is no longer contested; at least not by experts. Investing in fossil fuels, is a poor move, and one that will likely leave many Utahns unhappy. Massachusettsans, on the other hand, will be pleased to hear that their concerns, health and well-being are all taken very seriously by their state school.

We could learn from UMass.

letters@chronicle.utah.edu


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