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Fossil Fuels

Published on April 19th, 2016 | by Joshua S Hill


Columbia University Divestment Occupiers Threatened With Suspension

April 19th, 2016 by  

Seven Columbia University students currently occupying the campus’s iconic Low Library building in an effort to push the administration into fossil fuel divestment have been threatened with suspension.

On Thursday, April 14, 35 students from Columbia University began a peaceful sit-in outside President Lee Bollinger’s office to demand the University divest from the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies. Later that day, most of the students left upon being asked to leave, leaving a smaller group who intended “staying until President Bollinger meets our demand of a recommendation for full divestment.” At the time, information from Columbia Divest for Climate Justice mentioned that these remaining students were “risking potential school sanctions or arrest.”


A day later, the 16 remaining students entered President Bollinger’s office with the intent to stay until he “meets Columbia Divest for Climate Justice’s demand of a public recommendation for full fossil fuel divestment.” By Saturday that number was down to 9 students, and later Saturday, 2 more students left due to “personal commitments.”


On Monday, things began to escalate as an email from the Rules Administrator and Executive Vice President of Student Life, Suzanne Goldberg, was sent to the 7 remaining protesters threatening them with suspension.

Columbia-3“Suspension threats are the administration’s way of bullying us out of Low Library,” said Lucas Zeppetello, SEAS senior and Columbia Divest for Climate Justice organizer currently continuing to occupy Low. “They seek to drain our morale and demoralize the group. This strategy has failed largely due to the support we have received from on campus groups dedicated to peaceful protest.”

Although the group’s intention was only to disrupt President Bollinger’s office, the entire building has been on lockdown since Thursday. In the face of such action against them, the 7 remaining protesters are nevertheless committed to continuing their protest until President Bollinger recommends divestment.

“Students’ strong passion demonstrated for this issue has received praise from many, including President Bollinger, and for this reason, we believe suspension or expulsion would be an overly severe sanction,” wrote Columbia College Student Council in a statement to be published on Monday.

While it is difficult to comment specifically on Columbia University’s existing rules and regulations regarding such activities, the students appear to have been following the mandate of “peaceful protest” to the letter, which only serves to paint Suzanne Goldberg’s actions as exaggerated and excessive. According to Columbia Divest for Climate Justice, Goldberg is beyond her remit in threatening suspension.

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About the Author

I'm a Christian, a nerd, a geek, and I believe that we're pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I also write for Fantasy Book Review (.co.uk), and can be found writing articles for a variety of other sites. Check me out at about.me for more.

  • rick131

    Harvard had their protestors arrested and thrown in jail.

    • neroden

      I think the correct tactic to take is to prosecute the trustees for violation of fiduciary duty, since fossil fuel stocks are worthless and as such not a suitable investment for endowment money.

  • Armchair Hydrogeologist

    Well intentioned. But the fact is that most see this as rich brats making janitors and cops work overtime. This is the wrong way to effect change.

    It could be worse. I remember as a kid my mom getting taken hostage by hippies demanding to speak to Nixon about the war. Not once but twice. The hippies threw rocks at her when she was pregnant with my brother. And she was Eugene McCarthy campaign volunteer.

    • actuallyThere

      I’m a member of the occupation and the public safety officers like us a lot. We clean up after ourselves and share food with them that supporters on the outside bring to us. No one is working over time, the building is already monitored 24/7 by public safety officers and they prefer having us here for conversation than on normal days when they are all alone in this building.

      As for your mother’s experience, we are nonviolent and not taking any hostages.

      • Armchair Hydrogeologist

        KInd of cool to hear from someone there.

        From how I see it, I’ve never seen more money fly out of one industry into a substitute industry so fast in my life. The divestment is happening on its own now.

        Many fossil fuel companies and oil tycoons are playing a hand in both worlds. It’s hard to separate good from bad as it is changing. The organization skills, money, and influence of the pipeline companies are essential for building the transmission lines we need to get to very high levels of renewable usage.

        • neroden

          I believe that the best tactic to take against university administrations who refuse to divest from fossil fuels is to threaten to sue them for violation of their fiduciary and trusteeship duties.

          It is now evident that “investments” in fossil fuels constitute reckless wastage of the endowment. Fossil fuel companies are going bankrupt left and right, their debt is getting downgraded, they are selling capital assets to pay the dividends — the stock is unsafe, speculative at best, and essentially worthless. Putting university endowment money in fossil fuel stocks is a violation of the fiduciary responsibility of the trustees.

          There are methods under New York State law to sue the trustees for violation of their fiduciary duty (I think it has to go through a petition to some state official who regulates charities..) That’s the tactic which should be taken. They will be scared stiff of this, because if they are found to have violated their fiduciary duty, they have to *personally* pay back all the losses on the unsuitable fossil fuel investments, and the trustees mostly don’t have that much money.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I heard about a new concept today. Create an escrow fund and ask people who intend to donate to a university to put their money in the fund until the university is divested.

            It wouldn’t hurt the U in the long run, but it would send a very strong message.

      • LookingForward

        Are you still there? Or did it end? If so, how did it end? And did the university divest?
        I’d love to know more!

    • Change never happens without people demanding it. We can argue about the right tactics to achieve change, but I would point out that the American people had a moral responsibility to end a war that had killed 3.5 million people in Indochina. As a peace activist against the war in Iraq, which ended up killing roughly 1.5 million, I can personally say that I never saw any peace activists who engaged in violence or yelled demeaning things. However, the public screamed very demeaning things at us. They called us every name in the book for daring to stand on public corners and protest the invasion of Iraq. Protesting against the war in Iraq made me realize that nationalism can be sickness, because it makes otherwise reasonable people turn very vile toward their fellow human beings.

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