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Students call university president to show support for divestment

By Celia Young

Section: News

November 10, 2017

Brandeis Climate Justice hosted a phone call campaign on Thursday to encourage President Liebowitz to discuss divesting part of the Brandeis endowment out of fossil fuels with the Board of Trustees. The campaign also included a petition signed by over 500 students.

From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 9, Brandeis Climate Justice positioned a table outside Farber Library, handing out stickers and flyers detailing what number to reach Liebowitz at and what to say. They campaigned for divestment, or the removal of endowment funded investments in companies that support or distribute fossil fuels.

The table gained at least 50 visitors, according to Daniel Vilinsky ’18, who was working around 1 p.m. The petition, shared around campus by the Student Sustainability Committee in partnership with Brandeis Climate Justice, also gained over 500 signatures according to Cacildia Cain ’18, a member of Brandeis Climate Justice since her freshman year.

Vilinsky described the call-in campaign as “a concrete step you can take to go against climate change and tell him [President Liebowitz] that we don’t support that,” in reference to the investment in fossil fuels Brandeis University’s endowment employs.

The petition and campaign were in response to the ongoing investment of a portion of Brandeis University’s endowment into fossil fuels. Liebowitz will meet with the Board of Trustees from Monday Nov. 13 to Wednesday Nov. 15, and Cain hopes that the call-in campaign will encourage Liebowitz to discuss divestment.

President Liebowitz has, in the past, been committed to combating climate change. On Jun. 1, 2017, Liebowitz joined several other university presidents in signing a statement in support of the Paris Climate Agreement. Brandeis University also published a detailed climate action plan under interim president Lisa Lynch, intending to reduce the University’s carbon emissions by 10% by 2018 and 15% by 2020, according to Sustainable Brandeis, part of the university’s website.

The 2016 action plan was created by a sustainability task force in order to “reinvigorate the university’s commitment to sustainability by updating the university’s original 2009 Climate Action Plan,” according to the 2016 report. The 2009 plan was revised because Brandeis’ carbon footprint had actually increased between 2009 and 2016, according to the report.

Cain said that the biggest obstacle to successful divestment, a project of Brandeis Climate Justice since 2015, has been a lack of communication and transparency with the Board of Trustees and the administration.

“No one on the Board of Trustees will say no to us but they won’t say yes either…That prevents us from being able to escalate, like do a sit-in…We’re constantly in this in-between state where the administration or the Board of Trustees is saying, ‘Well, do this and then maybe we’ll talk to you.’ And then we do it and then they won’t. Because they don’t want to say no to us.”

Cain hopes that the call-in campaign will generate some momentum for divestment. In addition, Brandeis Climate Justice is planning a rally on Wednesday, Nov. 15, the last day of Liebowitz’s meetings with the board. The rally will march from the Rabb steps at 2 p.m. to the SCC and on to the administrative buildings.

The protest is taking place on the Better Future Project’s day of action, a Boston-area organization focused on divestment of fossil fuels. The Better Future Project is Massachusetts-based, and works with campuses to campaign for clean energy.
Cain has received much support from faculty, students and staff. At a faculty meeting on Oct. 20, a divestment resolution proposed by the organization Faculty Against the Climate Threat (FACT) received a near unanimous vote in its favor.

The resolution supported both divestment and Brandeis’ commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement. The final decision on divestment will be made by the Board of Trustees.

Brandeis Climate Justice, originally a part of Brandeis Students for Environmental Action, split off in 2012 to become its own organization. The student-run group works on a variety of campaigns and lends support to other college organizations in Boston. The group meets Wednesdays at 7 p.m. in Schwartz 103.

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