Student group pushes U to divest

Fossil Free Minnesota is in talks with President Kaler to end investment in fossil fuel companies.

Student group pushes U to divest

Julia Marshall

A University of Minnesota student group pushing for fossil fuel divestment is attempting to win administrative support, like many of its peer groups across the nation.

Fossil Free Minnesota members are currently in talks with President Eric Kaler, with the goal of convincing him to freeze all University investments in fossil fuel companies and completely cut those investments within five years.

Fossil Free Minnesota’s first official meeting with Kaler was in July, and it has another scheduled.

Eventually, group members hope to meet with the University’s Board of Regents, which has direct control over where the University invests its endowment.

In an email statement, Kaler didn’t offer his opinion on the group’s proposal.

“I am aware of [Fossil Free Minnesota’s] work and look forward to continued conversations with them in the future,” he said.

Though Kaler has agreed only to further talks with Fossil Free Minnesota, some group members are optimistic that University administrators could respond to their proposal.

“Moving from that first meeting [with Kaler] into our next meeting, we’re hoping to have a conversation about how he can collaborate with us and how we can collaborate with the administration,” said Simone Childs-Walker, second-year medical student and Fossil Free Minnesota member.

University alumnus and Fossil Free member Andy Pearson said Fossil Free is reaching out to other groups as well, including student regents representatives and the Minnesota Student Association.

At Macalester College in St. Paul, the school’s student government organization passed a resolution supporting fossil fuel divestment in April after meeting with the college’s Fossil Free chapter, said Rick Beckel, a group member and biology junior at Macalester.

“There’s pretty massive support in the student government, which is important because they’re a liaison between the student body and the administration,” he said.

Macalester’s group has talked to its college president, who, like Kaler, has neither endorsed nor rejected a divestment proposal.

Beckel said Fossil Free Macalester will seek approval from the school’s president before going to its Board of Trustees — a similar body to the University’s regents.

“The Board of Trustees is ultimately who we plan on targeting,” Beckel said, “but before they’re going to take any sort of action they expect the president to make some sort of recommendation.”

Six U.S. schools, five of which are on the East Coast, have already committed to divest from fossil fuel companies.  New York University’s divestment group, NYU Divest, hopes its school will follow suit.

Julianne Warren, an NYU arts and sciences master teacher and NYU Divest co-founder, said group members are working with NYU’s president, administrators, students and community members.

While some tactics employed by college and university divestment campaigns are similar, most that have committed to divestment have been small liberal arts schools, with the exception of San Francisco State University.

But Childs-Walker said she hopes the University could be the first Big Ten school to divest from fossil fuel companies.

“We know that the U of M has been a leader in the Big Ten on climate and sustainability before now,” she said, “and so we’re really excited about that precedent and really hope that the school could be a leader in the divestment movement.”