UIUC Beyond Coal to rally before Academic Senate meeting

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  • Sophomore Julia Nikolaev shows support for UIUC Beyond Coal student organization which stages a “Break Up With Coal” protest on the main quad on Friday, Feb. 13, 2015.

  • Sophomore Julia Nikolaev shows support for UIUC Beyond Coal student organization which stages a “Break Up With Coal” protest on the main quad on Friday, Feb. 13, 2015.

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By Ashni Gandhi

As public attention to global climate change has increased, UIUC Beyond Coal will advocate for the University to stop investing and using coal with a rally and vote held on April 4.JT

The administration has taken steps to reduce the University’s carbon footprint and overall energy usage through the Illinois Climate Action Plan, iCAP. According to the 2015 iCAP plan, the University aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.JT

Jackie Genova, senior in LASJT and co-president of the Beyond Coal campaign, said she sees an inconsistency between the iCAP and University actions.

“They say that they want to be a leader in sustainable practices and investing in coal and all fossil fuels is directly in contrast to that,” she said. “On the one hand we fund some of the most innovative crop science research in the country, but at the same time we are supporting an industry that makes it hard to grow crops in a healthy way.”

Genova said that coal divestment is an economically profitable strategy and a morally responsible one.

“Coal stocks have dropped 97 percent of their value within the past four years,” Genova said. “There is no reason for us to be investing in it. The success of the University is now tied in the success of the coal industry.”

Students have seen these inconsistencies and remarked on them in the past.

“Students are really behind this and the University has been completely ignoring the students on this issue,” Joe Edwards, junior in ACESJT and co-president of UIUC Beyond Coal, said. “In fall of 2013 there was a student body referendum where students voted six to one in favor of coal divestment. It took the University over two years to come out with a statement on that referendum.”JT

According to the University’s February 2015 statement on the student referendum, “Neither the (University of Illinois Foundation) nor the University has any direct holdings in the coal companies that were targeted by the referendum.”

Instead, the University hires external investment managers who invest the University’s endowment in a broad portfolio that includes 15 coal mining and coal utility companies. Investment in coal companies equates to $5.1 million and represents 0.28 percent of the total University endowment — $1.81 billion.JT

“Switching to a manager that would screen out coal investments would require an investment policy statement change by the Board of Trustees, engagement of investment consultants, plus a lengthy and potentially costly search process,” the University said in regards to the referendum.

Additionally, the administration argued that divestment may go against donor’s wishes, may hinder the University’s investment performance and would overall have little effect on the coal companies themselves, as the stocks would simply be purchased by another buyer.

Leslie Wexler and Jeffrey R. Brown, chair and former chair respectively of the Ad-Hoc Licensing Advisory Committee,JT wrote the statement in a letter to former Chancellor Phyllis Wise and ultimately recommended that the University should not divest from coal.

Nevertheless, Genova and Edwards said they were disappointed with the University’s unwillingness to make the change, even after students voted for divestment.

Now the group is working on passing two Academic Senate resolutions to address the University’s coal investments.

“The first resolution is to change the way we invest to socially acceptable investment funds. This is paired with the second resolution to create a committee to oversee that,” Genova said. “Somebody that is tasked to hold them accountable.”

Isaac Strain, junior in Engineering, has studied the history of the Abbott Power Plant.JT

“If we plan to be an institution that represents a commitment to a progressive and world-conscious future, it starts here,” Strain said, expressing concern with the plant’s carbon emissions.

UIUC Beyond Coal will host a rally before the Academic Senate meeting on April 4 on the Main Quad to bring attention to the University’s coal investments.JT

“Six years of ignoring student voices. We’ve had enough. And that’s what this rally is for and that’s what this vote is for,” Genova said. “We are at this point where we are really fed up.”

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