October 15, 2015

Prof. David Shalloway to Address Trustees on Fossil Fuel Divestment

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Prof. David Shalloway, molecular biology and genetics, will give a presentation urging the Board of Trustees to divest the University’s endowment from the fossil fuel industry next Friday during the Trustee-Council Annual Meeting.

Speaking on behalf of sponsors from all five shared governance assemblies that had passed resolutions calling for divestment, Shalloway said he will make the case that divestment from fossil fuels goes beyond environmental concerns and addresses the nature of shared governance itself.

The presentation marks the latest step in an effort toward divestment that began over two years ago when the Student Assembly passed a resolution in February of 2013 calling for divestment.

Since the passing of the 2013 resolution, the Faculty Senate, the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, the Employee Assembly and the University Assembly have all passed their own resolutions calling for the University to divest from fossil fuels. The University Assembly most recently passed its resolution in April last year.

With the number of resolutions calling for divestment from fossil fuels, Shalloway said he believed the Board of Trustees should hear his presentation as a joint call from the entire shared governance organization.

“This unanimity of campus constituencies, as voiced through their elected representatives, is unprecedented in Cornell’s history,” Shalloway said. “If shared governance is to have any real meaning, this unanimous decision should be respected.”

In addition to the presentation Shalloway will give, he will also introduce a signed letter to the Board of Trustees. As of Thursday afternoon, the letter had gained approximately 400 signatures from students, faculty, staff and other members of the Cornell community, according to Jeffrey Bergfalk grad, an organizer of the signature drive for the letter.

The divestment resolutions passed by all the assemblies within the shared governance system have called for Cornell to divest from 100 coal and 100 oil and gas companies holding the largest fossil fuel reserves, according to Shalloway. The resolutions have called for this commitment to be done over the course of 20 years, to accompany the University’s Climate Action Plan which aims for a carbon-neutral Cornell by 2035.

Shalloway said he hopes the presentation will start a discussion within the Board of Trustees. He added that he does not believe that the trustees has discussed the issue in the two years since the divestment campaign began.

“As far as we know, this [discussion] has never happened in the two years of fossil-fuel divestment resolutions,” Shalloway said. “We are asking them to seriously consider this request with discussion by the entire Board and for the entire Board to vote to whether or not to accept this shared governance request.”

While he does not expect the trustees to vote on the issue right away, Shalloway said he hopes that the Board of Trustees will not push the issue aside by moving it to a subcommittee.

“I believe that their immediate schedule is full, but we ask that they discuss this and then vote on it in full group as soon as possible and not relegate the issue just to subcommittee,” Shalloway said.

In the past, critics of divestment have cited financial risk as a reason to oppose divestment. However, according to Shalloway, representatives from the shared governance assemblies met with the administrators in the Office of University Investment last month and learned that if the University had divested from fossil fuels from 2006 to 2015, the divestment would have saved the University $47 million.

“We believe the financial issue is a ‘red herring’ — the amount to be divested is actually quite small — and hope that the Board will focus on more important issue of our moral integrity,” Shalloway said.

He added that he hopes the Board of Trustees will take action on the matter and that Cornell can emerge as a leader among the Ivy League in regards to climate action.

“I hope that Cornell will do everything it can to become the ‘Green Ivy’ — a national and international thought leader on sustainability and climate action. This will require pairing our Climate Action Plan and green Tech Campus actions with visible public education and leadership actions such as fossil-fuel divestment,” Shalloway said. “It will be good for our students, the world and our reputation.”