Big Ten student body presidents demand universities divest from fossil fuels

Tuesday, January 28, 2020 - 4:29pm

University of Michigan Central Student Government, along with the student governments of the other Big Ten schools, passed a resolution calling for divestment from fossil fuels.

University of Michigan Central Student Government, along with the student governments of the other Big Ten schools, passed a resolution calling for divestment from fossil fuels. Buy this photo
Claire Meingast/Daily

The University of Michigan Central Student Government released a statement on Jan. 26 announcing that they passed a resolution demanding the University freeze all of its fossil fuel investments and commit to divestment in 2020. 

The resolution was brought up at the Association of Big Ten Students Conference this past weekend in Bloomington, Ind. The association includes representatives from each of the Big Ten schools’ student governments. 

With a collective representation of over 500,000 students across 14 universities, ABTS is a critical organization that can be used to push for concrete, institutional change,the statement read. CSG urges the University of Michigan Board of Regents and Executive Officers to stand up for climate justice. Hundreds of thousands of students and millions of alumni are watching.

The resolution passed unanimously. 

Engineering sophomore Carla Voigt, the Universitys liaison to the ABTS, said the passage of the proposal aligns with CSG's past actions.

We really just wanted to get the other Big Ten schools to be a part of the same thing that we were investigating, pulling out of investments in fossil fuel industries, Voigt said. Its not unlike claims that we have made in the past or actions that we have done, like when we divested from the tobacco industry in 2000.

Voigt said the legislation works hand in hand with other proposals passed at the conference, such as the University of Indiana's proposal to create a sustainability committee.

The Climate Action Movement has been a big proponent of pressuring the University of Michigan to divest in the past year. They released a statement Tuesday in support of CSG’s resolution. Engineering senior Logan Vear, member of the Climate Action Movement and member of the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality, signed the statement.

“Today, students of the Big Ten have sent a clear message to the nation: the time has come for universities to act on the urgency of the climate crisis,” Vear wrote. “Divestment from the harmful fossil fuel industry can and must be normalized across the nation’s public-facing institutions.”

Vear compared calls to divest from fossil fuels to past massive student protests when the University divested from apartheid South Africa and the tobacco industry.

“The University of Michigan has precedent in this regard — past Administrations divested from apartheid South Africa and the tobacco industry after robust student-led activism,” Vear wrote. “Divesting the $1 billion U-M has invested in the fossil fuel industry requires the same moral urgency.”

Abdul El-Sayed, politician and runner up in the 2018 Michigan gubernatorial election, tweeted his praise for the resolution.

“This is a big deal,” El-Sayed wrote. “Our young leaders know what’s at stake. And they know what our major institutions need to be doing to defend us.”

Voigt said she was surprised but glad to see the support the proposal has gained among students as the issue of climate change is pressing. She said she is hopeful other work CSG and the ABTS does also receives similar attention.

Its definitely surprising, but at the same time, it's also kind of not surprising because it is something that is really important, Voigt said. Its really good to see it gain traction. I hope that some of the other things that we do gain traction in the future.

In an interview with The Daily on Tuesday, University President Mark Schlissel noted the value of listening to student voices. 

“The fact that both CSG and then collectively the equivalent bodies all across the Big Ten made a statement about this, I think is important,” Schlissel said. “I think we have to, you know, hear the student voice and you know, respect it and try to understand it.”