Senate passes fossil fuel divestment bill

May 28, 2013, 11:55 p.m.

In a Tuesday evening meeting lasting just one hour and seven minutes, the ASSU Undergraduate Senate passed a resolution in support of fossil fuel divestment at Stanford, a bill that extends the two-year term of the current CEO of Stanford Student Enterprises (SSE) and a bill establishing an Undergraduate 50k Challenge mirroring the previous Senate’s spending initiatives.

The fossil fuel divestment resolution dominated the meeting and prompted two immediate amendments from Senators Hisham Al-Falih ’16 and Ryan Matsumoto ’16.

Al-Falih supported the bill but expressed concern about the use of a 2011 report to define the 200 companies chosen for divestment. He emphasized the need for an up-to-date list, which the bill’s proponents accepted and included as a friendly amendment.

Matsumoto’s resolution, which stressed the need for more research about the University endowment’s finances, prompted controversy about the Senate’s role in advising the University. Specifically, his resolution altered a call for the University to “divest fully from these companies within five years” to calling for the University to “divest fully from these companies within five years if further investigation confirms that such a move is financially viable.”

“I want to emphasize that more investigation needs to be done on the University’s part,” Matsumoto said. “I think they will take us more seriously if we present this as an issue that needs to be investigated more thoroughly and with specific regards to Stanford’s endowment.”

Senate Chair Ben Holston ’15 described Matsumoto’s amendment as irrelevant and detrimental to the initial intent of the resolution.

“Putting something in about the University’s financial details, that to me is a separate issue,” Holston said. “I think that jeopardizes this resolution because it is not relevant and I feel that Ryan’s addition to the clause weakens the language of the resolution. Rather than requesting they divest from these companies, it gives them an out to [only] divest if it is financially feasible.”

Senator Ilya Mouzykantskii ’16 agreed, stating that the amendment was inappropriate in the context of the resolution.

“It is not the business of 19-year-olds to discuss what we should do about the University’s financial endowment,” Mouzykantskii said. “There are people who are paid good money to do that for us.”

Members of Fossil Free Stanford agreed with Holston and Mouzykantskii, deciding not to include Matsumoto’s amendment in their resolution.

Discussion was subsequently cut short — despite a number of senators remaining on the speaking list — for a vote. The resolution passed with 10 senators in favor, Senators Abby Dow ’16, Nikos Liodakis ’16 and Matsumoto against and Eilaf Osman ’16 and Angela Zhang’16 not present.

Dow expressed concern about the lack of information held by senators with regards to the University’s finances.

“To me, passing a resolution that is commenting on the endowment is implying that we are qualified to make statements on how we think the endowment should be handled,” she said. “Passing a resolution for strictly moral reasons that doesn’t address the financial viability of something that is directly dealing with the endowment does not make sense to me.”

Despite her concerns, many senators expressed pride in the resolution’s passage.

“A lot of work has been done by Fossil Free Stanford on ensuring that it is a sustainable, viable way for Stanford to proceed with its endowment and I was very happy to vote yes for it today,” Mouzykantskii said. “We join hundreds of universities across the country that have also supported fossil free divestment and I urge the University’s APIRL committee to take serious consideration of what their undergraduate student body believes is the right thing to do with their money.”

Following the resolution’s passage, the Senate unanimously passed three more bills. The first allowed current CEO Neveen Mahmoud ’11 to retain her position for a third year while the search continues for a replacement. While Eitan Winer Pinkas ’12 M.S. ’12 was initially appointed to the position, a human resources issue prevented him from taking the job.

The Senate also approved the passage of an initiative funding student group events, mirroring the last Senate’s “40k Challenge” as a means of spending accumulated ASSU reserve and buffer funds.. The undergraduate “50k Challenge” will allocate money to events for the upcoming fall.

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