Senate Assembly endorses University divest committee

Monday, November 16, 2015 - 6:10pm

LSA junior Nicholas Jansen proposes the formation of a committee to discuss the Divest and Invest Campaign at the Senate Assembly meeting in Forum Hall on Monday.

LSA junior Nicholas Jansen proposes the formation of a committee to discuss the Divest and Invest Campaign at the Senate Assembly meeting in Forum Hall on Monday. Buy this photo
Haley McLaughlin/Daily

 

Divest and Invest, the student-led campaign calling on the University to divest from oil and coal, scored a small step forward at Monday’s Senate Assembly meeting.

The Senate Assembly voted to support a resolution advocating the formation of a committee to review the University’s investments in oil and coal. During the meeting, the assembly also heard an annual report on the academic performance of the University’s student athletes.

The assembly discussed fossil fuel divestment last spring, but lost quorum before the motion to vote. Even with support of the assembly, the University’s Board of Regents must endorse the committee before it can form.

Divest and Invest president Nicholas Jansen, an LSA senior, noted divestment is just one approach to addressing climate change.

“We realize climate change is a huge problem; we’re not saying that this is the solution that is going to save everything,” Jansen said. “Being students, being at a University with political power and an image that people look up to, this is where we can take a stance and contribute to the problem. It’s a big problem, it’s going to take a lot of solutions.”

The University’s Divest and Invest campaign, formed in 2013, has spent the past two years encouraging the University’s administration to divest from fossil fuels, though the objective was recently amended to include only coal and oil, not natural gas.

Comprised of faculty, students, staff and alumni, the organization has urged the regents to form a committee that would review the University’s $1.04 billion invested in fossil fuels.

Jansen has previously expressed frustration with the regents’ refusal to develop an ad hoc committee to investigate the University’s investments in fossil fuels.

“We have overwhelmingly demonstrated time and time again that we meet the three prong requirement needed for the Regents to form an ad hoc committee to look at divesting (from coal and oil) with the most recent being a nearly unanimous vote by CSG to support our resolution that ask the Regents to form the mentioned committee,” he wrote in an e-mail last spring.

Last March, the University’s Central Student Government overwhelmingly voted to support the formation of such a committee.

However, in April, then-CSG President Bobby Dishell vetoed a resolution that would have encouraged the University to become a signatory on the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, an undertaking by colleges and universities to address global climate change. Signatories pledge to eliminate net greenhouse gas emissions from certain campus operations.

In an e-mail statement issued at the time, Dishell cited investment concerns as one of his reasons for vetoing the resolution.

“Though the aims and efforts of the ACUPCC aspire to positive sustainable change — an issue that the University aligns with and takes very seriously — it also sets a specific target date for achieving net climate neutrality,” he wrote. “The University cannot, with sound investment in mind, commit to the ACUPCC because there is no way to concretely determine that these goals will be met by that target date.”

The University has divested for social reasons just twice in the past — first from South Africa during the apartheid, and again in 2000 from tobacco companies.

In 2005, Timothy Slottow, the University’s former chief financial officer at the time, published a statement regarding the University’s divestment proceedings.

In the statement, Slottow said the regents would only appoint an ad hoc committee to investigate “the ethical and moral implications of our investments” if three conditions were met: the concern is shared consistently across campus, the behavior or action contradicts the University’s core mission and values and the “organization, industry or entity” identified is solely responsible for the issue.

In a viewpoint written for The Michigan Daily last month, Jansen said University President Mark Schlissel has said he does not believe the campaign has met the three pronged standard for the formation of an ad hoc committee.

Though fossil fuel divestment campaigns have taken root on hundreds of college campuses, few universities have divested from fossil fuels.

In May 2014, Stanford University announced it would divest from coal companies, becoming the first major university to begin divesting from fossil fuels.

Athletics report

English Prof. Anne Curzan, the faculty athletics representative, and Business Prof. David Wooten, both members of the Academic Performance Committee, presented the committee’s annual report to the assembly.

The Academic Performance Committee is a subcommittee of the Advisory Board on Intercollegiate Athletics, which reports to the provost on matters pertaining to the academic welfare of student-athletes.

According to the report, the University’s athletic department is comprised of 25 sports teams and 797 student-athletes.

Last year, the University recognized eight Academic All-Americans. To receive this honor, a student-athlete must have a cumulative 3.3 GPA and start more than 50 percent of his or her games. During the 2013-2014 academic year, the University recognized six Academic All-Americans, and before that, the University had not recognized more than four since 2005.

During the 2014-2015 fall and winter semesters, 184 student-athletes received University Honors. To qualify for this award, the student must have a 3.5 GPA for that semester and must be taking 14 credits, 12 of which must be graded.

An additional 260 student-athletes were honored as Academic All-Big Ten, the most in recent history. Academic All-Big Ten honorees must maintain a 3.0 GPA and must letter in their sports.