Demonstrators hold indefinite study-in in Schlissel’s office, call for carbon neutrality by 2030

Thursday, March 21, 2019 - 4:31pm

Demonstrators participate in an indefinite study-in in the Office of the President in the Fleming Administrative Building Thursday.

Demonstrators participate in an indefinite study-in in the Office of the President in the Fleming Administrative Building Thursday. Buy this photo
Courtesy of Alex Harring

Demonstrators, acting in solidarity with those who participated in last week’s Climate Strike and subsequent sit-in, began an indefinite study-in at 8 a.m. in the Office of the President in the Fleming Administrative Building Thursday afternoon. Protesters left around 5 p.m. About 15 demonstrators were present at 2 p.m. and plan to stay until University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel commits to carbon neutrality by the year 2030.

LSA sophomore Solomon Medintz, an Opinion columnist at The Daily, said this event was not a continuation of last week’s sit-in, which resulted in 10 arrests Friday night. He said protestors will come in at 8 a.m. when the building opens and leave at 5 p.m. when it closes every day until their demands are met.

“We didn’t get what we asked for — at all,” Mednitz said. “We got none of it. We’re not doing anything illegal by sitting here, and we’ll leave when they ask us to, but we’ll be back in the morning, every morning.”

On Friday, Climate Strike demonstrators occupied Schlissel’s office. Demonstrators had no plan to leave until Schlissel agreed to a one-hour public meeting in which questions regarding the University’s plan to address climate change and carbon neutrality were not screened beforehand. Medintz noted they changed their demand from the public meeting to a full commitment to a transition to carbon neutrality by 2030.

After seven and a half hours in and around the Administration Building, Washtenaw County Climate Strike demonstrators left the area at approximately 9:30 p.m. Friday. Melissa Overton, deputy chief of police and public information officer for the Division of Public Safety and Security, wrote in a message to The Daily stating 10 demonstrators — including two minors — chose to remain in the building after multiple warnings. The 10 were arrested and given citations for trespassing, and the minors were held inside until their guardians arrived, Overton wrote.

Along with issues regarding citations, students have also voiced concern over the composition of the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality. However, Schlissel addressed this matter.

In a monthly interview with The Daily last week, Schlissel said this person is one of two members from major energy corporations, making them a minority on the 16-person commission. Schlissel also said the two corporations, DTE and Consumers Energy, have a personal incentive to improve their sustainability practices.

“I quite purposefully asked those two major energy companies to suggest someone they thought would be helpful, and the reason why is they provide the overwhelming amount of energy throughout our state and region and to say we don’t want to hear their thoughts and learn their plans because of their emissions of greenhouse gas,” Schlissel said. “They’re not going away, they are the major suppliers of electricity for the University, the city of Ann Arbor, et cetera., so ignoring them because of past behavior, I don't think that serves any purpose.”

The Climate Strike was part of a youth-led global movement calling for action on climate change. Organizers estimated 2,500 to 3,000 attended the Washtenaw County rally in the Diag at noon, which led to a march to the Administration Building and the sit-in.

In a statement about last Friday’s events, University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald wrote that Schlissel shares students’ concerns and encouraged anyone interested to attend the Commission on Carbon Neutrality’s town hall meetings.

“We appreciate the urgency our students feel regarding climate change,” Fitzgerald wrote. “President Mark Schlissel shares that sense of urgency. President Schlissel has committed the campus to carbon neutrality and has appointed a special commission to explore a pathway to achieving that goal including solutions to climate change that go well beyond the borders of the campus. That critical work is now under way.”

As a University with a lot of resources, Taubman sophomore Josh Kuh said it is important to keep pressure on the administration because climate change and carbon neutrality are major issues. He also said he came to the study-in to show support of the demonstrators’ requests.

Kuh said it’s time for the University to “walk the walk” and events like the study-in are ways to create change.

“Events like marches and strikes are really good — they’re powerful in the moment — but they don’t always have a lasting impact,” Kuh said. “It’s not always the flashiest thing and the most exciting thing in the moment that ends up having the most change or the biggest effect, so I think something like this … and that continued pressure might be more important in the long run.”

In a statement Thursday evening to The Daily, Fitzgerald wrote that Schlissel met with several Climate Action Movement members and discussed their concerns during his open student office hours on Feb. 28. Fitzgerald also noted the president’s commission co-chairs met with Climate Action Committee members on Feb. 27.

Fitzgerald said one of the Climate Action Movement student leaders, Logan Vear, is a member of the commission, and additional CAM members are part of the commission’s student advisory panel. Additionally, Fitzgerald noted members have also spoken about this at Board of Regents meetings.

“University leadership is listening,” Fitzgerald wrote. “We share the goal to achieve carbon neutrality as soon as possible and everyone in our community has a role to play. We have been actively engaging with the U-M community, including members of the Climate Action Movement on these issues.”

Fitzgerald also discussed how the commision will host another session with Schlissel to continue conversations about the University reaching carbon neutrality. The next event is scheduled for April 9 at 5 p.m. in Rackham Auditorium.