UPDATED at 10:45 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 5 with comment from SGA vice president Suchira Sharma
By Alex Eng, news correspondent
Senators in the Student Government Association (SGA) voted to reaffirm the student body’s call for fossil fuel divestment on Monday night, the same day the DivestNU coalition began an indefinite occupation of Centennial Common.
A resolution was proposed by junior political science major Henoss Taddesse, a senator representing the Northeastern Black Student Association, before the SGA Senate on Oct. 3. If passed, the resolution would make the student body’s opposition to Northeastern’s handling of its endowments clear to President Joseph E. Aoun’s administration. The senate voted 14-2 to pass it.
The resolution, sponsored by senators representing various social and cultural groups on campus, calls for a moratorium on direct fossil fuel investments and for actions to be taken to divest from indirect fossil fuel investments. It also asks for the university administration to be transparent about these decisions.
Sponsors of the proposal were especially skeptical of a $25 million clean energy investment, which the university announced in July.
“As the university grows, it’s going to seek to emulate the investment strategies of other universities,” Austin Williams, a senior environmental studies and political science major and leader of the DivestNU campaign, said at the meeting. “It is very possible that the university is going to choose in select oil or gas pipeline projects.”
Williams stated that Northeastern would not suffer economic losses from divesting in fossil fuel industries, and other investments would actually yield greater returns to the university.
“We know that we have a situation here where we do not directly invest in the fossil fuel industry,” Williams said. “There’s nothing monetarily preventing us from divesting and following the moral and ethical values of the student body.”
Opponents of the resolution took issue with the concept of divestment in general, arguing that it would not necessarily attack the fossil fuels market because other investors would merely fill the demand.
“I think we can take a more practical approach to it,” said Senator Brendan Sweeney, a sophomore business administration and political science major who represents the D’Amore-McKim School of Business. “I don’t think that decreasing or limiting their investment in fossil fuels would make as much of an impact.”
Instead, Sweeney proposed an amendment to the resolution that would call upon the university to invest more in renewable energies, which he saw as a better solution.
“DivestNU can’t just wish away fossil fuel companies by ignoring them,” he said. “The only way to decrease the demand for fossil fuels is […] to invest in the technology that will allow sustainable energy to replace fossil fuels as the most practical source of energy.”
Sweeney’s amendment was not formally recognized. Sweeney, who was one of two senators to vote nay on the resolution, opposed a majority of senators who believed they were representing their constituents.
“We’re not the people deciding on the practicality. We’re just making sure that [the student body’s] voices are heard,” Taddesse said. “We as a student government are just reaffirming what they have already affirmed.”
Taddesse referred to a referendum question which appeared on the 2014 SGA Direct Election ballot, in which 75.23 percent of voting undergraduates supported divestment from fossil fuel industries.
The Senate voted with eight abstentions to pass the resolution after sponsors answered several rounds of questioning. As per the SGA bylaws, passed resolutions are forwarded to Aoun for consideration.
Suchira Sharma, a third-year international business major and the vice president of SGA, chaired and led the Senate. She said in an email to The News that she was pleased with the way the senate carried out its legislative proceedings, although she did not express her opinion on the outcome of the vote.
“This was an excellent example of passionate, engaged students bringing up campus concerns and having them addressed by students who are tasked with representing our student body,” Sharma said.
DivestNU members said they hope that this will make the issue more salient to the administration, who made a decision to continue investing in fossil fuel industries despite the 2014 referendum results.
“The student body has itself already expressed its sentiment as to whether or not we should divest in the fossil fuel industry,” Williams said. “Our role here is to preserve the will of the student body.”
A DivestNU rally with students from other universities is planned for 6 p.m. on Centennial on Tuesday.
The News will continue to cover breaking developments.
Photo by Scotty Schenck