Representatives of 15 student organizations hosted a climate protest Friday to read out an open letter addressed to the University of Michigan administration. The letter, signed by all of these organizations, asks the University to commit to implementing the recommendations of the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality and to prioritizing climate change when selecting the next University President.
The open letter was conceived of at a meeting between student sustainability groups on campus. At this meeting, the organizations agreed that an open letter was necessary, and a sub-committee of representatives from several of the involved organizations began to draft the letter. The draft was then pushed to the larger coalition of sustainability organizations for comments and suggestions.
Engineering junior Brendan Ireland, president of both the Sierra Club at the University and Fridays for Future, said they took care to make sure all of the voices who participated in the events between student organizations were included in the letter.
“It was a process of building consensus and taking people’s opinions into consideration, trying not to hurt anyone’s feelings, or step on anyone’s toes,” Ireland said. “We were making sure everyone’s voice got received.”
The letter contained many requests from the student organizations. They requested the University make climate change a priority in the hiring process for prominent administrative positions, something that the organizations highlighted in their previous meeting. Currently open positions include Provost, President, Special Advisor to the President for Carbon Neutrality Strategy and several others.
University spokeswoman Kim Broekhuizen wrote in an email to The Michigan Daily that carbon neutrality is a priority for the University and claims that priority is felt in hiring for administrative positions, including those being filled.
“Meaningful climate action is a crucial priority for the University of Michigan, for President Coleman and for the Board of Regents, who will be selecting the next university President,” Broekhuizen wrote.
The open letter also expressed a great amount of disappointment in the University’s handling of climate change. This came up with the hirings and the University’s silencing of student voices with non-binding commitments with a failure to implement measures for accountability.
Broekhuizen said meaningful action towards implementing carbon neutrality is already happening, with the release of the University’s emissions-reduction dashboard, which features information on University commitments, emissions on campus and plans for the future.
“Transparency and accountability are critical,” Broekhuizen wrote. “And these resources enable the U-M community to help spur us toward our goals.”
LSA sophomore Lexi Crilley, member of Fridays for Future and policy chair for Students for Clean Energy, was another one of the students on the committee that drafted the letter. She said they put a lot of effort into creating specific demands.
“I think the biggest challenge was finding the balance between having something that is clear about the urgency of the situation and how passionate and driven we are about getting these things done, while also not being outright accusatory,” Crilley said.
This was especially important when it came to the PCCN’s recommendations from the University. The letter asked for these recommendations to be met, and expressed disappointment with the scope of the University’s recent 2040 carbon neutrality commitment. According to Crilley, the University must pivot to carbon neutrality faster if they want to help prevent climate change from becoming irreversible. She also described what she said was a lack of motivation from the University; she said it was disappointing not just for the student groups but for the city of Ann Arbor.
“When we’re reading through these goals and targets set by the University, we were pretty disappointed to find that it was this late,” Crilley said. “Plans set by the city of Ann Arbor set a much more rapid transition away from fossil fuels and towards greater carbon neutrality and sustainability efforts, which are just going to be completely impossible if the University isn’t on board.”
Broekhuizen said the University is listening to PCCN. She also said their carbon neutrality commitment is sufficiently broad, as the University will be making significant progress prior to their 2040 commitment to carbon neutrality.
“The university will procure 100 percent of its purchased electricity from renewable sources by 2025,” Broekhuizen wrote. “The associated carbon reduction will be equivalent to removing every motor vehicle registered in Ann Arbor – approximately 70,000 – from the road.”
Ireland said expressing the student organizations’ disappointment in the University was crucial to the letter, especially because it highlights these issues to the broader community of students.
“I think having something that is to the regents but (is) also in a form where everyone can see it happening and be aware it’s happening is beneficial,” Ireland said. “The goal is awareness, so I think those things will go hand-in-hand.”
To those who worked on the letter, another important component of the letter was cooperation between the campus community. According to Crilley, if cooperation is not a factor in moving forward in preventing climate change, there won’t be much progress.
“I don’t think we’ll have any hope at making fundamental changes to the University or the way they deal with things like their plans for carbon neutrality unless we all really band together and convey the importance,” Crilley said. “The open letter was a great opening for that.”
LSA senior Aaron Boockvar-Klein, Finance and Cooperations Operator for the Student Sustainability Coalition, says there are high hopes the letter will go beyond affecting the University in the short-term.
“In the long term, I hope that the letter can help sustain student engagement with the carbon neutrality process,” Boockvar-Klein said.
Boockvar-Klein also said he believed the letter came out well, and he supports the final product.
“I really like that it’s a one-pager,” Boockvar-Klein said. “I think that makes it accessible to leaders. And I think that it has a nice balance of saying ‘here are the broad goals of the people who wrote and signed the letter’ as well as ‘here are our specific asks.’”
Daily staff reporter Riley Hodder can be reached at email@example.com