Student resolution urges University to divest from coal

By Megan Jones

The resolution calls on the University of Illinois Board of Trustees to divest from coal operators and mining companies.

This is not the first major push by students — in a student referendum in 2013, students voted in favor of divesting, with 4.6 percent of the student population voting. The Illinois Student Senate also passed a resolution in favor in 2014.

After this push, the University created an ad-hoc committee to look into investments and licensing to see if it was economically feasible for the University to divest, Illinois Student Senator Madison Scanlan, chair of the student senate’s Campus Affairs Committee, said.

The report, released February 2015, recommended against divestment, stating it is bad to have an undiversified investment portfolio. The report states the 15 coal companies targeted use the funds to “mirror market performance at a very low cost.” The report also states that if they divest from coal, then they would also need to divest from other societal issues, including tobacco companies, alcohol producers, GMOs and companies using animal testing.

The committee urged the campus to create a social responsibility committee to address licensing and investments, but ultimately ruled that, “although the university certainly is concerned about many of these issues, it would be impossible to build an efficient investment portfolio that is acceptable to all constituents,” the report said.

Beyond Coal, an organization in support of divestment, started in 2011 and was first of its kind to start on a college campus. They began campaigning against investments in 2011.

“(The administration thinks) the only way to divest is to switch to actively manage funds, so to actually manage the funds that we have invested right now,” said Joe Edwards, co-president of Beyond Coal. “Whereas the solution that we’re proposing is just to change the funds that we have to socially responsible investment funds in general.”

Beyond Coal is hosting a rally Monday on the Quad from 1-3 p.m to show their support for the University to divest from coal.

The resolution, originally written by Marshaun Montgomery, a graduate student, also urges the Academic Senate to create a “Socially Responsible Investment Committee” to hold the University accountable if they commit to divest.

“As students, one hurdle we always have to overcome is ‘Will the faculty and professors take us seriously?’ And often, the answer is no, which is awful in a place where we treasure shared governance,” Scanlan said. “It’s time for us to have this conversation and push back and say, no, students voted for this.” Other topics to be discussed at the Academic Senate meeting include a resolution calling for the state to enact a budget, sponsored by Gay Miller, Senate Executive Committee chair.

At Monday’s Senate Executive Committee meeting, Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson said there are no updates on the state’s budget impasse and administrators recently spoke to the senate appropriations committee before spring break. They focused on expressing how the budget has hurt faculty retentions.

Mike Bohlmann, professional advisory committee representative and SEC member, spoke about how recent anecdotes have surfaced regarding University employee health care. In the past the University has heard complaints regarding dental coverage, specifically regarding providers wanting money upfront, but there are even more now that reimbursements are taking longer and longer from the state.

The same issue is now starting with the state self-funded health plan to the point where people are being turned away by providers or being asked to pay for medical procedures upfront.

Bohlmann said his committee is trying to work on how to approach this as it affects all employee groups on campus, and thought the Senate Executive Committee should be aware of the problem so they could potentially work with the benefits committee. The Council of Academic Professionals is drafting a resolution regarding benefits in April, Bohlmann said.

Additionally, the academic senate will vote on a resolution to revise the general education requirements so students have to take both a U.S. minority course and a non-western culture course.

The campus is in the height of student recruitment right now, Wilson said, particularly in the undergraduate level. Applications were up by 11 percent in comparison to last year and the number of students committed to attending in the fall increased as well.

Dean searches are currently being made in the College of Medicine, AHS and ACES. Candidates for College of Medicine are coming into the final stages of the selection process while candidates for AHS are beginning campus visits.

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