Public speakers at Regents express hopes for carbon neutrality, #UMDivest

Thursday, December 6, 2018 - 8:45pm

Rackham Student Elizabeth Walz speaks to the Regents during the Public Comments portion of the Regents Meeting at the Richard L. Postma Family Clubhouse Monday afternoon.

Rackham Student Elizabeth Walz speaks to the Regents during the Public Comments portion of the Regents Meeting at the Richard L. Postma Family Clubhouse Monday afternoon. Buy this photo
Keemya Esmael/Daily

The University of Michigan Board of Regents’ meeting Thursday featured 15 public comment speakers, including U-M Ann Arbor and Dearborn students as well as alumni, faculty and staff. The topics discussed included carbon neutrality, divestment from companies supporting Israel and the role of letters of recommendation in a political context.

At his annual leadership breakfast earlier this semester, University President Mark Schlissel announced he would appoint a commission to establish a timeline and distinct goals for achieving carbon neutrality. Starting in 2008 and 2009, a wave of universities mobilized around the nation to aim for carbon-neutral campuses. The University of Michigan, however, lagged behind. Earlier this week in an interview with The Daily, Schlissel said the commission “can’t be too large.”

Neurology professor Larry Junck contributed suggestions to raise awareness and educate on campus sustainability. In addition to themed semesters, he recommended multidisciplinary weekly conferences with a variety of topics and groups.

“My proposal is that there be University-wide themed semesters dealing with various aspects of climate change,” Junck said. “This is a large and great University with resources in many areas.”

LSA junior Kristen Hayden said the University’s next steps toward carbon neutrality should include scientific recommendations from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the national climate assessment.

“With our dedication, our hard work, there is also hope that we can reach a clean, sustainable U of M, and by extension, world,” Hayden said. “Let’s turn the defining issue of my generation into the defining success. We are the future.”

Alum Missy Stults, sustainability and innovation manager for the city of Ann Arbor, added young people should be included in the process of achieving carbon neutrality.

“As you move forward with creating your carbon neutrality taskforce, I strongly encourage you to engage students, especially undergraduate students, in this endeavor,” Stults said. “I also encourage you to think about engaging youth, these are the next generation of leaders.”

Moving on to conversations around the University’s relationship with the state of Israel, Rackham student Yahya Hafez voiced opposition surrounding the University’s punishment of American Culture professor John Cheney-Lippold. Earlier this semester, Cheney-Lippold rescinded his decision to write a letter of recommendation for a student wishing to study abroad in Israel. The University’s decision to admonish Cheney-Lippold stirred discussion on campus regarding the role of faculty’s academic freedoms in regards to their students. Following Cheney-Lippold’s punishment, Provost Martin Philbert appointed a faculty panel to investigate these issues, though the group has been criticized as not being representative of faculty views and levels across the University.

Hafez stated other professional organizations have warned against the University’s actions handling the situation. In regard to Philbert’s panel, Hafez commented on the lack of Cheney-Lippold’s colleagues in humanities departments in the body, claiming this was a mistake and undemocratic.

“That the provost then unilaterally created a panel to retroactively justify and recommend policies allowing these actions is even more egregious,” Hafez said. “Particularly given the complete exclusion of any panel members from the humanities, no amount of community input can make up for the undemocratic structure.”

The public comment then shifted to a condemnation of the University for not acting on divestment resolutions in the past. Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, a group of students promoting social justice and human rights of Palestinians, brought the original resolution, which sought to divest funds from companies committing human rights violations against Palestinians in Israel, to the forefront of University conversation over the past decade and a half. Last year, Central Student Government passed the divestment resolution for the first time ever, joining student governments on the Flint and Dearborn campuses in their support. However, a majority of the regents refused to consider SAFE’s call for a committee to investigate the University’s investments, releasing an online statement on the matter weeks after the resolution. 

U-M Dearborn student Susan Yaseen spoke of a lack of support Palestinian students felt from the University on its Dearborn campus. Yaseen also expressed disappointment in the University’s handling of the resolution for divestment.

“We feel that we lack meaningful support from our administration at Dearborn when it comes to speaking in our own voices,” Yaseen said. “The issues that we care deeply about seem to have traction only when non-Arabs are involved.”

Graduate student instructor Elizabeth Walz spoke against all study-abroad programs located in Israel, claiming they contribute to the violation of Palestinian freedoms. GSIs also joined Cheney-Lippold in academic boycotts of Israel: Early in october, Rackham student Lucy Peterson, a Political Science GSI, also declined to write a reccomendation letter for a student studying in Israel.

Walz said the University’s commitment to student freedoms was also not maintained when the University refused to consider the resolution passed by CSG.

“What has University of Michigan, and what specifically have you, the regents, done to protect this supposed freedom when the CSG passed the resolution to explore the divestment?” Walz asked. “Especially after sitting through the meeting today, does this University care about anything other than money?”

The Regents did not respond to any of the public comment speakers.