March 28, 2013

Students advocate for sustainable investments to trustees

Carl McCall
Robert Barker/University Photography
SUNY Chairman of the Board H. Carl McCall addresses the Cornell Board of Trustees at a meeting in Ithaca, March 28.
students address board of trustees
Robert Barker/University Photography
Kyoto Now! members Dennis Fox '15 and Rebecca Macies '14 advocate for the university to divest from investments in fossil fuel companies.

Two student members of the campus environmental organization Kyoto Now! made their case for Cornell to divest from investments in fossil fuel companies at an open session of the Cornell Board of Trustees meeting on campus March 28.

The trustees, university administrators and student groups have been in ongoing dialogues about divestment for the past year.

"Our financial support of climate polluters creates a discrepancy between the ideals and trajectory of the university and its investment policy," said Dennis Fox '15.

Representing Kyoto Now!, Fox and Rebecca Macies '14 asked the university "to fully withdraw its investments in the fossil fuel industry by 2020, and reinvest 30 percent of those divested funds" in responsible sustainable investments.

More than 300 campuses nationwide are running divestment campaigns, including all the other Ivy League schools, Fox said. "American endowments add up to more than $400 billion, and we have the power to influence the impacts that money will have on our future," he said.

President David Skorton had yielded his time during the meeting's open session to Kyoto Now!

Adam Gitlin '13, president of the Student Assembly (SA), presented a report to the board. Regarding divestment, Gitlin said that while the SA recognizes that immediate divestments could lead to cuts for vital student services, responsible endowment could "align the goals of Kyoto Now! and the investment committee."

On behalf of the SA, Gitlin advocated for finding ways to increase and continually measure improvements to campus safety, including more support for a night campus shuttle; he also advocated for hiring an associate dean for the LGBTQ Resource Center in the Office of the Dean of Students.

Mitch Paine, Graduate and Professional Student Assembly (GPSA) president, reported that the GPSA passed a resolution this year that supports women's professional development and asked for additional programming and resources for women to navigate the world of academia and careers.

He reported that the GPSA recently passed its strategic plan, the Graduate Professional Community Initiative. The plan, created collaboratively with hundreds of graduate and professional students, comprises eight topics with objectives and action items, including a graduate and professional student center, career resources, mental health and physical well-being, diversity, international students, family services, housing and community. It was made as a "truly strategic plan" with hundreds of action statements, said Paine.

The meeting began with a presentation by State University of New York (SUNY) Chairman of the Board H. Carl McCall, who discussed Cornell's and SUNY's historic collaborations. He discussed how SUNY helps fund the Cornell statutory colleges -- Agriculture and Life Sciences, Human Ecology, ILR and Veterinary Medicine -- with total support of more than $121 million from the $12 billion total SUNY budget last year.

McCall outlined SUNY's strategic plan "that was rooted in six big ideas": involvement in entrepreneurial activity, the education pipeline, serving as a resource for sustainability projects, providing for the health of communities, expanding SUNY's global reach, and engaging and enriching communities, he said. Educational remediation for K-12 students to prepare them properly for college was an important priority for SUNY, he said.

He also called for collaboration between Cornell and SUNY for online education programs, advocacy for funding of state and federal grants, research, and the Cornell NYC Tech campus.