Climate advocates call for NYU trustee Larry Fink’s expulsion from board

A group of student climate activists called on NYU to expel a member of its board of trustees for his company’s investments in fossil fuels and private prisons. 


Sheridan Smith

Climate Care Collective NYC holds an informational picket outside Bobst Library on April 20 against NYU trustee Larry Fink. (Sheridan Smith for WSN)

Cora Snow, Deputy News Editor

Around 20 students, faculty and climate activists gathered at a protest outside Bobst Library on Thursday to demand that BlackRock CEO Laurence Fink be removed from NYU’s board of trustees. The protesters criticized the trillion-dollar asset management company’s investments in fossil fuels and private prisons. 

The protest coincides with a week of programming for 2040 Now — a university sustainability initiative with the goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2040.

At the protest, attendees held up hand-painted banners reading “Fink Is Fucking Our Future” and “2040 Too Little Too Late.” Demonstrators handed out flyers and asked passersby to sign a petition calling on the board of trustees to remove Fink.

“​​On the West 4th Street Starbucks window are the words: ‘Sustainability is not a spectator sport’ and yet NYU’s administration, and you, the board, are sitting back and watching us do all the work,” the petition reads. “It is time NYU stops placing the burden of climate action on students, who individually have little impact on greenhouse gas emissions.”

The protest was organized by the Climate Care Collective NYC, a group of climate advocates, some of whom are NYU students. Gigi Weisberg, a sophomore at NYU who is a member of the group, said she thinks NYU is not doing enough to fight climate change, and that the university’s 2040 Now week feels insincere due to Fink’s association with BlackRock.

“It’s the most performative fucking bullshit in the entire world, it makes me really angry,” Weisberg said. “Asking us to weigh food waste and use paper straws and stuff like that — that’s not getting any shit done when they’re still involved in fossil fuels.”

BlackRock’s investments are tied to hundreds of millions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions, and it is one of the largest shareholders in the world, with $8.5 trillion in assets under management. Fink’s company is also the largest shareholder of both CoreCivic and Geo Group, which operate private prisons and immigrant detention centers around the country and the world. Currently, BlackRock owns 16.34% of CoreCivic and 14.67% of Geo Group, holdings that constitute over $316 million in shares for the two companies combined.

In recent years, BlackRock has set some sustainability goals, including reducing 67% of emissions from directly owned sources and 40% from unowned but indirectly influenced assets by 2030. The company also recently published a report of its climate-related finances, including its greenhouse gas emissions impact.

Matt Kobussen, a spokesperson for BlackRock, said in an email to WSN that the company’s clients choose what investments BlackRock makes with their money. A 2021 company statement claimed that its clients’ investments cannot reach net-zero emissions without help from government policies and advancements in technology.

“Our role is to help them navigate investment risks and opportunities, not to engineer a specific decarbonization outcome in the real economy,” the statement reads. “The money we manage is not our own – it belongs to our clients, many of whom make their own asset allocation and portfolio construction decisions.”

At the protest, students called on NYU to join more than 100 universities across the country that have committed to divesting from fossil fuels, including The New School and Columbia University. Student activist groups such as Sunrise NYU and the now-defunct NYU Divest have been calling on the university to commit to divesting from fossil fuels since 2013.

In the past, the board of trustees has openly refused to divest from fossil fuels. In 2016, after the student government passed a resolution in favor of divestment, the board said that it did not think divesting was “the proper action to take” in a message to the NYU community.

In a February 2022 email to students, however, President Andrew Hamilton said that the university does not currently or have plans to directly invest in companies with a primary focus on fossil fuel exploration and extraction. He also said that indirect investments in fossil fuels will continue to decline over the coming years.

Charlotte Annesi, an NYU student who is also a member of the Climate Care Collective, said that participating in climate activism has made her more aware of the divestment movement and sustainability issues at NYU.

“Hopefully they realize — the board of trustees — what is happening and they see the climate clock in Union Square, they see something and they realize that it’s getting bad,” Annesi said. “If they don’t realize it, because it’s in their interests not to, then we are here to tell them that they should be interested and they should care about their community.”

Contact Cora Snow at [email protected].