NYU Divest and the Student Labor Action Movement are preparing to occupy the Kimmel Center for University Life after NYU administrators denied a series of demands Friday afternoon.
NYU Senior Vice President for Student Affairs Marc Wais sent an email to SLAM and Divest on Friday afternoon. Wais addressed three demands made by activists — for a public town hall meeting with trustees and administration, for a follow-up vote on university fossil fuel divestment and for student representation on the Board of Trustees.
Wais flatly rejected activists’ demands for a town hall.
“A town hall meeting, with its tendency to be a forum for speeches and public posturing rather than for discussion, is not among the methods they have chosen to seek student input,” Wais wrote.
In lieu of a public town hall, Wais said there are other means that trustees use to hear input from students. He cited biannual lunches between trustees and student leaders, an annual meeting with Student Senators Council leadership, the board’s participation in University Senate debates and “many informal interactions” between students and trustees.
The email additionally denied activists’ demands for a re-vote on fossil fuel divestment, a resolution which had been passed by the Student Senate and the University Senate in April 2015 before being turned down by the board in June 2016. Divest and SLAM have both complained of several trustees’ conflicts of interests and asked that trustees with personal investments in fossil fuel companies recuse themselves from a re-vote.
“[The board’s] concern is that prohibiting such investments would exclude NYU from participating in many, many funds that they believe are important in growing the endowment, which in turn supports NYU’s academic mission and student financial aid,” Wais wrote. “They have no plans on addressing this issue again in the near future.”
Regarding the demand for student representation on the Board of Trustees, Wais said that the resolutions passed by the University Senate last week to add student and faculty representatives had been received by the board and guaranteed that the board would respond to these resolutions by the end of June.
On March 29, two activists from each organization met with Senior Vice President for University Relations and Public Affairs Lynne Brown and Senior Associate Vice President Tom Ellett. Activists arrived at the meeting with a series of demands, to which administrators promised a response by the end of the following week. In response, SLAM and Divest suspended its four-day occupation of various locations on campus.
Administrators additionally warned activists of disciplinary action if they occupied any university building past its closing time. The evening before, the groups had threatened to stay overnight in the Kimmel Center for University Life before departing after being guaranteed the meeting with Brown and Ellett. Wais restated this warning in his email.
“In keeping with our campus traditions, we respect your freedom of speech and your right to protest,” Wais wrote. “However, we would ask that you bear in mind that disruption of campus operations falls outside the wide latitude with which we view dissent.”
The day after meeting with Brown and Ellett, SLAM and Divest sent an email to Brown and Ellett stating activists’ intent to escalate to an indefinite occupation of Kimmel starting on April 9 if they did not receive a response from the administration or if the response is deemed unsatisfactory.
On Friday evening, NYU Divest published a Facebook post that included screenshots of the email Wais wrote to activists.
“The Board has refused all three of our demands,” the Facebook post read. “See you on Monday at Kimmel, allies.”
WSN will continue to update this story with any further developments.
Email Alex Domb at [email protected].