NYU Divest organizers held their first meeting with President Hamilton on Friday to discuss the possibility of the university’s divestment from fossil fuels and to deliver a letter of support containing more than 200 faculty members’ signatures.
The meeting was granted after a Divest member requested to meet with Hamilton during his last town hall, and it follows a 33-hour occupation held in the executive elevator of Bobst Library on Monday. While the sit-in was a call for the administration to respond to Divest’s demands — including granting organizers a meeting with the full Board of Trustees — CAS junior and Divest member Olivia Rich said the goal of Friday’s meeting was to build a relationship with the new president.
“We thought that things might be tense after just having a very disruptive occupation, but nobody chastised us about it, and we moved forward in a very positive way,” Rich said. “He was listening and was truly interested in what we had to say. I think he established himself as a good liaison, or a person that would be dedicated to making sure that this consideration of divestment moves forward the way it should.”
Seven faculty members accompanied Divest to the meeting. Although they were not included in the discussion, Assistant Professor in the department of environmental studies David Kanter said they were there to stand in solidarity with the movement.
“Getting universities — particularly American universities that often have such large endowments to divest and to remove any investments they have in companies that fund fossil fuels or have investments in fossil fuels — is one of the biggest messages that can be sent,” Kanter said. “These universities are the size of multinational corporations. This is not just a symbol. It has economic reverberations.”
In addition, Kanter said during Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau’s visit to NYU, Hamilton made himself clear on NYU’s commitment to climate change and Kanter hopes this will extend to supporting divestment in the future.
CAS senior and Divest member Lila Carpenter said gaining faculty support has been instrumental in further legitimizing the campaign’s efforts and now the organization must focus on winning over support from the Board of Trustees.
“It would be wonderful if Hamilton endorsed divestment and lent his support to us because he does have a lot of sway on the Board and in the student body,” Carpenter said. “But right now, I do feel like we have a lot of support from the student body, and the next step is gaining support from the Board. We have asked in the past if he would support divestment and he has stepped around the question a bit.”
In addition, while Rich said Hamilton told Divest it would be inappropriate for him to take a stance on fossil fuel divestment as a university president, she believes he acknowledged the arguments made during the discussion.
“He said that we could keep in touch with him, and he encourages our emails in the future,” Rich said. “That’s really heartening to hear because sometimes university presidents aren’t very accessible, and we felt like he is an accessible leader.”
Rich said Divest is working toward strengthening its case for divestment in order to prepare for the organization’s presentation before the Board’s Investment Committee in mid-May. Rich said she believes the university has refrained from divesting as a political tactic, but hopes they will reconsider because they have divested from industries supporting apartheid in South Africa and genocide in Darfur in the past.
“We feel like this is also a very extreme humanitarian crisis where people are dying and losing their land, and that the university needs to make a statement on it,” Rich said. “It’s not so much as a political statement as a humanitarian statement. We have a complicated endowment, but we want [the university] to make the commitment that they would divest. This is an important issue, and then [the university can] go about looking into how feasible it is.”
Email Diamond Naga Siu and Lexi Faunce at [email protected].