The U-M faculty’s Senate Assembly on Monday endorsed a student-led effort seeking an ad hoc committee of students, faculty, alumni and administrators that would consider whether the university should end its investment in the oil and coal industries.
Members of the Divest and Invest campaign told the faculty governance group that global climate change — and the impact of energy derived from oil and coal production — is a societal problem similar to tobacco use and South African apartheid, two issues that resulted in earlier divestment decisions by the Board of Regents.
“What we do at the University of Michigan matters. We’re an enormous institution. We’re global leaders,” said Ellen Loubert, a member of Divest and Invest’s steering committee. “We see that divestment is a very powerful tool and we need to use all the tools we have in this fight.”
A resolution asking the regents to create a committee that would collect information and recommend whether to divest its oil and coal holdings received a clear majority in a show-of-hands vote by the Senate Assembly, which consists of elected faculty members from the Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint campuses.
The resolution contends the issue of oil and coal investment meets the criteria that have been established in the past for creating such ad hoc divestment committees.
The vote was preceded by an approximately half-hour-long discussion that saw some faculty members express support for the students’ position that climate change is “the most important issue for this generation.”
Others questioned why the resolution focused only on oil and coal without looking at other contributors to climate change, such as natural gas or the auto industry, which depends on the use of fossil fuels.
The resolution does not take a position on whether the university should divest its oil and coal holdings. Rather, it calls on the regents to create a committee to investigate the issue.
“We’re not deciding on this issue now,” said David Smith, professor of pharmaceutical sciences and a member of the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs, the executive arm of central faculty governance.
“One of the ways to learn more about it, I think, would be to form a committee, and your answer can still be no. But I think we need to be better informed, and a committee, I think, might do that better.”