UPDATE: The Academic Assembly has authorized the divestment committee to release the faculty’s open letter. Click here to read the full text.
More and more universities are joining the list of schools divesting from fossil fuels. While Seattle University has yet to join in, on April 22, faculty released an open letter to the school calling for divestment.
For junior environmental studies major and Students for Sustainable Action member Delaney Piper, the methods used by the movement have changed, but their resolve stays strong. She explained that unlike last year’s massive rallies and student action, this year most of their work is being done behind scenes, in conversations with the university. This letter represents another effort to keep the topic of fossil fuels at the forefront of campus discussion.
“Faculty letters have been really important in other movements: Harvard, Stanford—both of those [schools] have had really strong faculty support,” Piper said.
She elaborated on the importance of actions like this, and how they allow administration to understand the extent of student’s and faculty’s resolve.
Written by a committee of faculty from the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Science and Engineering and Albers School of Business, the letter calls for removing all university money currently invested in funds that include fossil fuels. It includes a list of nine social, moral, scientific and economic reasons to divest, and offers the university a five-year period to remove its fossil fuel investments. After being released on the Academic Assembly canvas page in early April, the letter is now circulating Seattle U as it gathers more signatures.
Senior marketing instructor April Atwood sees divestment as an economic opportunity where the university could invest in green energy or renewable sources. On the other hand, she also sees it as an inherently moral issue, integral to the creation of a just and humane world.
“If we truly believe in that, how can we continue to have financial holdings in companies that are acting so much in opposition to what we say we’re believing?” Atwood said.
To civil and environmental engineering professor Wes Lauer, global climate change is one of the most significant problems our society currently faces. Divestment, in his opinion, is the most obvious response that Seattle U could have to this issue.
“The divestment movement is one of the few really viable advocacy movements that has a national and an international stage,” Atwood said.
After SSA’s actions last year, more than 600 students signed a pro-divestment petition, which received a recognition vote from the Academic Assembly. The administration made moves to address these student concerns. One such result was the creation of the Sustainable Investment Committee, a task force consisting of investment managers, students, faculty and administrators that is currently researching socially just ways for Seattle U to invest.
SSA has been in constant conversation with this committee to encourage divestment.
Sophomore environmental studies major and SSA member Mary Eileen is important not only because it expresses student opinions, but because it shows solidarity between students and professors. For her, it represents faculty members standing up for the mission of the university.
“I think it’s really important for their opinions, for their voices to be heard…because they’re here to help us, teach us, and guide us,” Eileen said.
Adjunct professor of history Michael Ng signed the letter because he respected its commitment to the social justice mission of Seattle U.
“Students are the stakeholders… and here’s an issue they care about,” Ng said. “Why aren’t we doing something?”
In his opinion, though it is understandable for a large university to take their time deliberating on issues, Seattle U has lost the opportunity to be a leader in divestment. Many other universities, including Loyola University and other Jesuit institutions, have already chosen to remove money from fossil fuel investments.
Professor of philosophy Yancy Dominick chose to sign the letter not only because he saw it as the right thing to do, but because he was inspired by student action. He recalled the mission day protest last year, and how as a member of the faculty, hearing students speak so passionately about divestment pushed him to get involved.
“I think one thing that it shows, is the respect that faculty have for students, and that if this is something that’s important to the students, then the faculty are willing to show that they are happy to be led by their students,” Dominick said.
Letter co-writers Atwood and Lauer stressed this continuous conversation between faculty and students. Although their ultimate hope is that the letter finally results in divestment, they emphasized the importance of keeping this topic in mind.
“I think conversation is probably more important than anything else that we’re doing,” Lauer said.