NYU rejects fossil fuel divestment as meaningless political statement

The New York University Board of Trustees rejected vehement demands from students to divest from fossil fuels because doing so would have amounted to a meaningless political statement.

According to Washington Square News, NYU President Andrew Hamilton explained the Board’s reasoning in an email to the university Thursday in which he explains that a divestment of their holdings in fossil fuel companies, as students had requested in a 2015 University Senate resolution, would be more of a political statement than an actual strategy for fighting climate change.

[RELATED: REPORT: Divestment about politics, not environment]

“We applaud the efforts of faculty, students, and staff to advocate for addressing climate change and in proposing divestment, but do not support NYU using its endowment as a tool for simply making statements,” Hamilton explained. “We understand that some proponents of divestment argue that divestment in and of itself can help to advance the use of renewable energy sources and reduce dependency on fossil fuels. However, we are not persuaded by this argument.”

Board of Trustees Chair William Berkley added that the university would not give up its fight against climate change, but would do so using campus-wide initiatives, such as focusing on lowering NYU’s greenhouse gas emissions, raising awareness on campus, and other projects.

The NYU Board’s decision comes on the heels of a similar case at Stanford University, where students and faculty protested their university’s fossil fuel investments by threatening to withhold donations until their demands are met, only to be similarly rebuffed by the Board of Trustees.

[RELATED: Students, faculty pledge to halt donations until Stanford divests from fossil fuels]

In March 2015, the NYU Financial Affairs Committee released a report recommending that the university keep its holdings. The Fossil Fuel Divestment Working Group, comprising both administrators and students, concluded that the university can have the “greatest impact on global warming and sustainability through direct action and through its teaching and research mission,” rather than through divestment.

Even so, the University Senate passed a resolution in April recommending that NYU avoid future investments and “divest their holdings from fossil fuel companies and companies which profit from the continued emission of greenhouse gases.”

NYU’s endowment was valued at $3.6 billion in June of 2015, Bloomberg reports, though the university has not disclosed the exact value of its fossil fuel holdings.

Students, faculty, and alumni in favor of the Senate resolution began a series of protests on NYU’s campus and formed the group NYU Divest to demand action from the university, calling for NYU to “live up to its stated values of sustainability and global community.”

In October 2015, three years after Hurricane Sandy, NYU Divest staged a public demonstration on campus urging the university to “recognize the victims of climate change and divest from fossil fuels,” during which members taped their mouths shut with fake dollar bills and held signs saying “Climate justice is social justice” and “Climate change is local.”

The group held another series of protests on April 18, which culminated with several members occupying NYU’s Bobst Library and blocking an elevator to administrative offices. NYU Divest member Olivia Rich claimed the drastic action was necessary due to a lack of transparency on the part of the university, and demanded a meeting with the Board of Trustees prior to a formal vote on divestment.

Their occupation came to an abrupt end at 5:00 p.m., however, when administrators informed the protesters that they would be suspended if they remained in the building past library hours.

Despite the group’s behavior, the Board agreed to look at NYU Divest’s demands, and placed divestment on the docket for their June meeting.

NYU spokesman John Beckman reported that the Board took time to seriously consider NYU Divest’s demands, but came to the conclusion “that divestment was not the proper action to take.”

Now that the Board has ruled against its aims, though, NYU Divest vows that it will continue its fight until it achieves its desired result.

“NYU Divest will not end its campaign until NYU honors the wishes of its University Senate and broader community by divesting from fossil fuels,” Olivia Rich declared in response to the decision.

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