By John Heathcliff
On Thursday October 22nd, a coalition of student run societies and campaigns are coming together to put on a debate on UEA’s investment policies, specifically in relation to the fossil fuel industry. Similar discussions are taking place all across the country as student activists organising under the banner of ‘Fossil Free’ are lobbying their institutions to end all financial links with fossil fuel companies on the grounds that such links are inextricably linked to the catastrophic effects of climate change. At UEA, students have been campaigning for over 2 years for senior managers to divest funds from the industry, and have garnered support, taken mass action and put significant pressure on the University.
Over 1,000 students have signed a petition and nearly 100 academics have organised an open letter calling for UEA to divest. The support for divestment on campus is palpable. But as of yet, Senior Managers at UEA remain unchanged in their position; that their investments of over £140,000 in companies including Rio Tinto and Shell are acceptable.
The debate on October 22nd will feature student activists, academics and economists discussing the case for divestment, its role in fighting anthropogenic climate change and whether or not it should be pursued by UEA. One voice will be notable in its absence though – that of UEA’s Vice Chancellor David Richardson and the entire Executive Team of the University. David and his colleagues rejected several separate invitations to attend the event and participate in the discussion.
In actively rejecting an invitation to speak on the panel, David Richardson is, in effect, showing the middle finger to the masses of students and staff at the institution he runs by demonstrating that he has no regard for the strength of feeling that the community at UEA have on this issue, as well as the time and dedication that it’s advocates have put into campaigning on it. The snubbing highlights the disdain with which he views the people who make up the University that he leads, and it fundamentally ignores the fact that any money the University has, invests or spends, is not his property, but the property of the thousands of students who fund the institution through their tuition fees, their rent in accommodation and their spending in campus services. It shows that he has no willingness to engage in the issue, question his position or examine whether supporting the status quo is defensible, given the concurrence of the impacts his institution is by proxy having on the world’s climate and the depth and breadth of support for divestment in the campus community.
Cosy meetings with Student Union sabbatical officers in ornate
offices over cups of coffee and pleasantries just won’t cut it David.
Students deserve and demand a say in where the money they pay into the system goes, and they demand to hold to account the people that are spending it on their behalf. Cosy meetings with Student Union sabbatical officers in ornate offices over cups of coffee and pleasantries just won’t cut it David. You need to address and defend the decisions you make in public and to the people whose money it is that you are spending and whose money funds your £200,000 a year salary, and that of your equally excessively remunerated colleagues.
By refusing to engage directly with the issue, Senior Managers at UEA are crossing their fingers and hoping that it will go away, are hoping that students will stop putting pressure on them and embarrassing them in the press. But we won’t go away. We won’t stop campaigning and lobbying and pushing until we win divestment, until UEA stands up to its duties as a socially and environmentally responsible institution, and lives up to its reputation as a University that prides itself on sustainability.
If negotiation doesn’t work, we will abandon negotiation. If petitioning and rallying public support to demonstrate our concern doesn’t work, we will abandon this too. We will continue to escalate our campaign until crossing your fingers, closing your eyes and washing your hands will be impossible and you cannot ignore us any more.
You can find out more information about the event here. The debate will be taking place at 7pm in Lecture Theatre 2 on 22nd October.