Divest fact-checks Sexton’s Town Hall

Jeffrey Kopp, Contributing Writer

NYU Divest fact-checked claims made by president John Sexton at his final town hall last week regarding the university’s involvement with the fossil fuels industry.

The group published a series of graphics which respond to select quotes from last Wednesday’s affair. One image, in response to Sexton’s assertion that NYU alone cannot reverse climate change, suggested that the university is essentially acting as a bystander. Divest suggests that by not taking action, NYU is following the model of nations who wish to avoid dealing with initiating meaningful climate policy.

“The truth is that climate change can only be solved if the sum of the individual institutions and nations take action,” the graphic reads.

At the town hall, CAS senior and NYU Divest member Lila Carpenter questioned if Sexton would personally endorse fossil fuel divestment, to which he responded he would not.

“We do not make a statement that we are in favor of fossil fuels or against fossil fuels; we make no political statements with our endowment,” Sexton said at the town hall. “That kind of statement should be made by the university — as the university — only when it is visibly shown, through the normal processes of the university, that is a virtually unanimous position.”

In late April of this year the University Senate and the Student Senators Council voted to divest from fossil fuels. Because of this, the group was promised a meeting with the Board of Trustees, but the meeting has remained in the planning stages. Carpenter said by investing in these industries, the university is making a political statement.

“I think you can argue you have made very political statements such as the creation of the Abu Dhabi campus and the 2031 Plan that had very distinctly had zero consensus among the community that are political acts,” Carpenter said. “We went into [the town hall meeting] knowing full well that the decision would have to come from the board, but also knowing that he does have a lot of play.”

CAS junior and member of NYU Divest Olivia Rich said she found Sexton’s response about such a decision requiring a unanimous position by the university to be problematic.

“It’s shown to be well-supported on campus other than the administration,” Rich said. 

NYU spokesperson John Beckman said the endowment money is invested in a number of funds, where it is commingled with other investors’ money, and the specific decisions about how those funds are invested are made by the fund managers, not by the investors — whether NYU or the other investors.

“It is worth noting NYU’s very substantial and successful efforts to reduce its carbon footprint…that have reduced NYU’s carbon emissions by over 40 percent and our electrical usage by 30 percent over the last few years,” Beckman said. “The University is taking the issue of carbon reduction seriously, and University leadership is taking the Senate resolution and NYU Divest’s point-of-view seriously.”

A version of this story appeared in the Monday, Oct. 26 print issue. Email Jeffrey Kopp at [email protected]

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