The University Insider is The Daily’s first faculty and staff-oriented newsletter. This weekly newsletter will give U-M faculty and staff the ability to see the most important issues on campus and in Ann Arbor — particularly those related to administrative decisions — from the perspective of an independent news organization. It will also provide a better understanding of student perspectives.
Monday morning, a group of students from the One University Coalition and the Climate Action Movement sent a joint statement to University of Michigan administrators, making a series of demands regarding equity between U-M’s three campuses and moving the University towards carbon neutrality.
In response to climate issues, the University announced the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality in February. The commission’s goal is to provide recommendations to the University on how to achieve carbon neutrality through collaboration between students and faculty. In September, the University joined a group of Northern American research universities in the University Climate Change Coalition to reach their environmental goals.
About a month ago 1U and CAM joined forces to petition the University to divest over $1 billion currently invested in natural gas and expand the Go Blue Guarantee to U-M Flint and U-M Dearborn, among other items.
Amytess Girgis, an LSA junior and 1U activist, said the two groups began working together several weeks ago, and share many of the same goals.
“Both of us have been just entirely admonished and ignored by this administration,” Girgis said. “We’ve been promised that change will come and change has yet to come, despite the fact that it's been a year. Neither of us have seen any signs of progress.”
Girgis also said some of the coalition’s requests — expanding the Go Blue Guarantee to Flint and Dearborn, for instance — have been acknowledged by the University, yet no action has been taken.
“This is something that they have acknowledged would be a theoretically good thing to do and that they have refused to take any action on,” Girgis said. “So that’s the sole ask, and if the University can’t meet that ask, then we really have to question what its intentions are between its words and its actions.”
LSA junior Solomon Medintz, a member of CAM and columnist at The Daily, said another unifying factor between the two organizations has been their attempts to work with the University to make change happen. Medintz said the University has attempted to pit activist groups like 1U and CAM against each other, making it seem as though the goals of one group are counterintuitive to the goals of the other.
“President Schlissel actively tried to pit us against one another by saying that getting to decarbonization by 2030 and being a leader in climate justice would come at the expense of the Go Blue Guarantee,” Medintz said. “And we are kind of joining forces to show that we reject that kind of sowing division between different social justice organizations.”
Medintz said the University’s investment of its $12.4 billion endowment in controversial interests is troubling to the student body.
“Approximately 8 percent (of the endowment) is invested in natural resources, and natural resources is almost entirely oil and gas,” Medintz said. “And we know that for a couple of reasons. The first is that when they’re comparing it to what their expected returns for the given category is, they’re comparing it to an energy index. And secondly, of the last eleven natural resources investments made, about ten of them are in the oil and gas industry.”
In March of this year, students organized a sit-in at the Fleming Administration Building and ten protestors were arrested. Medintz said this incident shows the University doesn’t truly support climate justice. One of the coalition’s demands is for administration to apologize for these arrests.
“I think the University’s actions have spoken for themselves,” Medintz said. “Back in March they arrested individuals who were peacefully protesting and were simply requesting a meeting with President Schlissel, and they have yet to apologize for those arrests. Charges have yet to be dropped for those arrests.”
According to University Spokesperson Public Affairs Rick Fitzgerald, the University is committed to environmental justice initiatives, but sees a different path towards carbon neutrality as student activists.
“The university is committed to doing the research necessary to support the how so we can help not just ourselves but others beyond our campus also become carbon neutral,” Fitzgerald said. ”That’s the real benefit of a research university making a commitment to becoming carbon neutral. We have the resources to figure out how to do it and then we can share that information with others.”
On the issue of 1U’s desire to expand the Go Blue Guarantee to Flint and Dearborn, Fitzgerald said other factors explain why the administration has not expanded the program to those campuses.
“About 95 percent of undergraduate students at UM-Flint and 94 percent at UM-Dearborn receive financial aid, compared to 65 percent on the Ann Arbor campus, and the socioeconomic distribution of UM-Flint and UM-Dearborn students mirrors that of the broader Michigan public,” Fitzgerald said. ”These regional campuses already display the type of socioeconomic diversity that UM-Ann Arbor is trying to build through the Go Blue Guarantee.”
Despite the University’s lack of response to these activists, Girgis is confident that at the least, administration will agree to meet with CAM and 1U students and hear their demands.
“I feel optimistic that we can get a meeting with them and I feel even more optimistic — and perhaps too optimistic — that they will meet our demands by the December 5th Regents Meeting,” Girgis said. “But we'll see what happens.”