In an unprecedented turn of events, the NYU University Senate voted with an overwhelming majority to pass a resolution that favors divestment from fossil fuels on Thursday. Members of NYU Divest, a student group who advocates for divestment, will present the resolution to the Board of Trustees.
The resolution, proposed by the Student Senators Council, encourages the university to cease investing in fossil fuel companies, to grandfather any existing investments and to investigate the ways in which the university can make future investments that promote minimizing the effects of burning fossil fuels.
On March 26, a Senate Financial Affairs Subcommittee recommended against divestment in a report that they presented to the University Senate and sent out in an email to all students. The group’s report said divestment from fossil fuels would not be financially prudent for the university.
Members of NYU Divest and supporters of the divest movement rallied in Washington Square Park prior to Thursday’s senate meeting, then made their way toward the room in which the meeting was held.
“People gonna rise with the water, we’re gonna shut this crisis down,” the group sang as they walked. “I hear the voice of my great granddaughter, saying time to divest now.”
Two resolutions were brought to the table at the senate meeting — one from the SSC, and another from the Administrative Management Council. The senate only voted on the SCC’s resolution. In the final vote count, 65 senators voted in favor of the proposal and 10 senators voted against it, with seven abstentions.
Sophie Lasoff, the founder of NYU Divest, said this marks major progress and the members of NYU Divest are excited to begin developing a relationship with the Board of Trustees.
“We definitely see this as a victory,” Lasoff said. “This is not the end of the conversation with the senate either. The senate could continue to discuss other ways that they can support this issue and other issues that are related.”
Lasoff added that despite the victory, the resolution is not perfect, as it is not as strong as many would like it to be. The alternate resolution proposed by the AMC included ideas that some senators wanted in the SSC resolution that the senate voted on.
“Unfortunately there wasn’t time to merge the two resolutions,” Lasoff said. “That could still potentially be done in the fall, and there could be a stronger statement of support, but what’s important about this is that it brings [the resolution] to the board, and that with a vast majority of the senate, the census is that they support divestment as an act.”
George Thurston, a professor in the Department of Environmental Medicine at NYU Langone, voted in favor of the proposal despite some of its shortcomings. Thurston said he would like to see more focus on divestment from coal, which he said he believes is one of the most important issues, and was disappointed that the resolution does not outline a long-term plan. However, Thurston acknowledged that this is only the beginning.
“I’m glad that the students showed leadership in governance and dealing with an issue that has obvious global implications,” Thurston said. “It’s a first step.”
During the meeting, Susan Stehlik, a clinical associate professor in management communication, urged her fellow senators to think about their intellectual footprint, saying it is the responsibility of the faculty at NYU to lead a discussion surrounding this issue. After the meeting, Stehlik said she felt this proposal does not go far enough.
“I think this step — which is why I voted against it — doesn’t draw the process and doesn’t draw the attention to the bigger issue,” Stehlik said.
In a statement, the Student Senators Council said they were pleased with the senate’s decision, believing that the university has an obligation for responsible investments and doing what it takes to fight climate change.
“The senate’s support of our resolution is a first step in our university’s continuing commitment to environmental stewardship and we look forward to working with all members of the NYU community in forwarding progress on one of our generation’s most pressing issues,” the statement reads.
Members of NYU Divest will present the Student Senators Council’s divestment proposal to the Board of Trustees in June.
Email Alex Bazeley at [email protected]