May 6, 2014

Cornell University Assembly Votes Against Fossil Fuel Divestment

Print More


Tuesday, the University Assembly became the first Cornell assembly to call against divesting the University’s endowment from the fossil fuel industry.

The U.A.’s decision — which came in an 8-5-1 vote on divestment goes against previous resolutions passed separately by the Faculty Senate, Student Assembly and Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, which supported divestment. The U.A. resolution does, however, support the Faculty Senate’s call for the University to achieve carbon neutrality by 2035, a goal which was previously set at 2050.

According to Jim Blair, executive committee chair of the U.A., Resolution 16, titled “Carbon Neutrality and Divestment,” was open for public comment for a period of approximately one week and received 49 online comments all in support of divestment.

These comments included several sentiments about divesting from fossil fuel companies, saying not doing so is hypocritical, unethical, a poor example for students and contradictory to the conclusions of other assemblies, Blair said. Many U.A. members disagreed with these things being at the forefront of the issue.

The passage of the resolution followed lengthy discussion among U.A. representatives and approximately 15 community members about the financial and symbolic consequences of divestment.

Some U.A. members said they were concerned that divestment may lead to financial consequences that would affect staff employment and undergraduate tuition. “I’m not willing to gamble someone’s livelihood.

I’m worried that [employees] will be on the chopping block,” said Greg Mezey ’09, a member of the U.A. “A symbolic statement is not worth being in the position of saying to someone, ‘I’m sorry, you can’t come into work today because there’s no money for your job.’”

Matthew Battaglia ’16, an incoming U.A. member, said he did not believe divestment was worth “jeopardizing undergraduate tuition.”

“We can’t justify to students cutting money to the University on the off chance of making a difference,” he said. “Climate change is a problem, but it’s not something we can risk our undergraduates on. The risk is too much.”

However, supporters of divestment argued that the potential monetary risks would not have a significant impact given the University’s “large budget.”

“The Office of University Investment says we could lose [$100 million over ten years] from divestment. But look at Cornell’s annual budget of $2 billion,” Jimmy O’Dea grad said. “I think $10 million is sticker shock. Other sources of the University’s revenue, such as research funding and overhead, vary by millions of dollars each year.”

Several community members found the U.A.’s decision to be “disappointing” and “frustrating.”

“The U.A. basically ignored their constituents,” David Beavers ’14 said. “Three bodies [the GPSA, S.A. and Faculty Senate] almost unanimously called for divestment.”

Sarah Balik ’15, a member of the U.A. and S.A. executive vice president, said she believes the U.A. should not have “voted against [its constituents.]”

“In my opinion, the U.A. made a mistake here. You’re not doing justice to your constituents if you’re not listening to their ideas,” she said. “My biggest fear is that this decision will end the debate on divestment — about what it means to be sustainable — and that would be a disgrace.”