Fossil fuel divestment dominates Senate meeting

May 21, 2013, 11:55 p.m.

Fossil Free Stanford, a student group focused on prompting University divestment from fossil fuels, dominated business at the ASSU Undergraduate Senate’s May 21 meeting. The Senate also discussed its role in the University’s judicial process and passed three bills that supported the Graduate Student Council’s 30K challenge, upgrades of the ASSU accounting staff’s computers, and the budget for fiscal year 2013-14.

The Fossil Free group, led by Michael Penuelas ’15, Yari Greaney ’15, Shane Johnson ’16 and Sophie Harrison ’16, has demanded that the University immediately freeze investments in the fossil fuel industry and fully divest from all fossil fuels within the next five years. The group, whose efforts began with a petition that gathered more than 1,000 signatures, framed calling on the Senate for support as potentially putting pressure on the University to divest.

“Stanford is known for being on the cutting edge of innovation. We can lead this movement toward a clean energy future,” Harrison said, stressing the importance of the Senate’s role in the process. “We are asking for you to help Stanford take a stand. You are the elected representatives of our student body. This is our legacy as a University, and this is your legacy as our senators.”

To date, five schools — all liberal arts colleges — have divested.

The half-hour presentation dominated the majority of open forum and received an enthusiastic reception from senators, with a straw poll showing 13 in favor. While senators expressed unanimous support of the bill’s fundamentals, some senators voiced concerns with the language of the bill.

Referencing the ASSU’s bylaws, Senator John-Lancaster Finley ’16 questioned whether the bill would fall within the scope of the Senate’s responsibilities given the lack of a direct impact that divestment might have on students, a concern that went generally unchallenged by both Fossil Free and other senators.

Despite the Senate’s positive reception to the bill’s concept, senators said they were undecided on how they might vote on the resolution itself.

“I voted yes for the idea, but I am still undecided how I would vote on the bill itself,” said Senator Abby Dow ’16.

The Senate plans to vote on a revised resolution next week.


Concerns over judicial conduct

In the remaining minutes of open forum, Finley and Senator Hisham Al-Falih ’16 suggested that the Advocacy and Administration and Rules committees work together to address the controversy surrounding recent allegations of bias and misconduct in the University’s judicial process. Senators were generally supportive of ASSU action on the issue.

“The information that I have seen is really concerning,” said Senator Ilya Mouzykantskii ’16. “It impacts the life of 118 or so Stanford students every year. I think it is imperative that we take a legal role in trying to deal with this.”

Mouzykantskii suggested that Dean of Student Life Chris Griffith attend a Senate meeting to try to clarify the University’s position and suggested the establishment of a network of pro bono lawyers to represent students in front of the Office of Community Standards.

Dow suggested the creation of yet another ad hoc committee to discuss the Judicial Affairs process, putting the 15th Senate on pace to create one ad hoc committee per meeting. However, several senators, citing the sufficiency of existing committees, rejected the idea, prompting Dow to rescind her motion.

In other business, the Senate passed three bills that had been discussed in last week’s meeting, including voting to support the “Graduate 30K Challenge,” an initiative to grant $30,000 from the graduate buffer fund to promote events for graduate students. In routine business, they also voted to upgrade the ASSU accounting staff’s computers, confirmed the fiscal year 2013-14 budget and unanimously passed funding requests from 20 student groups.

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