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Postdoc council considers fossil-fuel divestment resolution, calls for harassment protection for Black faculty

Dec. 19, 2021, 8:35 p.m.

At its final meeting of the year on Thursday, the Stanford University Postdoctoral Association (SURPAS) debated a proposal for Stanford to divest from fossil fuels and called upon the University to better protect Black faculty members targeted by harassment efforts.

Tim MacKenzie Ph.D. ’19, a postdoctoral scholar in genetics and the SURPAS advocacy coordinator, presented the divestment resolution, which calls on Stanford to fully divest its endowment from publicly traded oil and gas companies within the next five years. The resolution is an adaptation of previous demands from the Graduate Student Council and Undergraduate Senate, which have jointly called on Stanford to fully divest from fossil-fuel companies and freeze new investment in oil and gas companies. 

“It’s an opportunity for us as postdocs to join in … with other people who have already been speaking up,” MacKenzie said. “Joining together amplifies our collective power.” 

According to the resolution, the fossil-fuel industry is aware of the consequences of carbon emissions and spreads disinformation campaigns to “deceive the public.” MacKenzie said he wanted postdocs to present a unified front to the University and help create lasting change. 

“Stanford as an institution has a symbolic importance, and societally we need to move,”  MacKenzie said. “We need to be moving and not continuing to invest” in fossil fuels.

Usman Ahmad, a postdoctoral scholar in general surgery, said it is critical to specify which types of fossil fuels the resolution targets and provide energy-source alternatives. While natural gases are fossil fuels, they produce 330 less tons of greenhouse emissions annually than coal.

“There may be the spirit and intent of what we are trying to do, but execution may come across a little differently,” Ahmad said. “We need to be very concrete about what we want Stanford to do about it, [because] things are going to continue to evolve as the industry evolves.”

The council also considered a resolution shared by MacKenzie in support of associate political science professor Hakeem Jefferson, who was targeted by a right-wing advertisement campaign in November. 

Mackenzie criticized the University for failing “to condemn the attacks as racist.” He added that passing the resolution would be a demonstration of Stanford’s postdoctoral voice on campus-wide issues and demand protection for Black faculty from coordinated harassment. 

“We stand in solidarity with you, Professor Jefferson,” MacKenzie said. “We condemn the attacks as racist, and we support you.”

The council also voted on an amendment to SUPRAS bylaws that would change the electoral process for council leadership. The majority of council members voted that chairs of SURPAS committees, which focus on different areas of postdoctoral life, should be elected by the postdoctoral community — instead of appointed by the council — to fairly represent all interests. A final decision was postponed to the next SURPAS meeting in January, but postdoctoral fellows currently do not need to serve on the council to be a chair on a committee.

Roberta Sala, an instructor in the field of obstetrics and gynecology and SURPAS council member, stressed how important it is for postdoctoral fellows in leadership positions to understand the responsibilities of representing SURPAS to the greater Stanford community. 

“These seats are really important for us because traditionally, SURPAS has not had that much voice campus-wide,” Sala said. “When people take up these seats, it’s important for them to know they have a responsibility to bring SURPAS’s voice out there.”

Chuying Huo is a high school reporter in The Stanford Daily Winter Journalism Workshop.

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