The University of Pennsylvania, claiming to value collaboration and logic, acted extremely hypocritically throughout the negotiations during the Fossil Free Penn sit-in. On Monday, March 27th, students began sitting in College Hall demanding immediate divestment from coal and tar sands companies and the initiation of a plan for full divestment within the next six months. Throughout the next four days, members of Fossil Free Penn met with three administrators consistently: Gregory Rost, Joann Mitchell and Hikaru Kozuma. In these meetings, I began to understand the deep hypocrisy that Penn exhibits and its lack of true regard for student opinion or input.
In our first meeting, we explained our demands. Climate change is an unbelievably imminent threat and it is imperative to work collaboratively on positive climate solutions. While the fossil fuel industry does pump coal, oil and natural gas into our industries and economy, they also actively block climate solutions and fund climate denial. Their reach even extends into the pocket of our politicians; Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has received almost $600,000 from the fossil fuel industry and our own Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) has received almost $1.5 million. Penn continuing to hold investments in these companies means that Penn condones these activities. Our demands were quickly rejected; we were told that the University had already made its decision on divestment and that was final.
Ever since the Board of Trustees rejected our original proposal, they have repeatedly stated “We will do anything short of divestment." Open to collaboration, Fossil Free Penn members came up with four new possible positive actions beyond divestment that the University could take immediately.
The most important proposed action was the public release of the analysis that had been used by the Trustees to reject fossil fuel divestment. We, at Fossil Free Penn, believe strongly and wholeheartedly in the value of logic. We understand and embrace differing opinions, as diversity of thought is what drives society forward, but want these opinions to be based in fact. A decision on divestment, whether you agree with it or not, has impacts far beyond this campus; this decision should have been made based on logical analysis and sound evidence. Our proposal to the administration was 48 pages long and filled with evidence and logical analysis supporting divestment as both a morally and financially responsible decision. The Board of Trustees rejected this proposal in 19 words and without any contradictory evidence or a single logical counterpoint.
Incredibly, we were soon told that all four of our new actions were not even going to be considered. In fact, the administration made it clear that asking for the logic behind its extremely impactful decision was by far the most outlandish of our proposed actions. We once again offered to collaborate on alternative solutions. They once again said “no."
Penn’s administration refusing to disclose the analysis behind its divestment decision has implications far beyond Fossil Free Penn. This action represents blatant hypocrisy. As a research university, Penn has a responsibility to, at the very least, uphold the values of truth and logic. Outwardly, they do. When walking down Locust Walk, look at the Benjamin Franklin quotes etched into the stones. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” “Half the truth is often a great lie.” By refusing to even engage in active dialogue or disclose its analysis, Penn has proven that it, in fact, does not uphold these values; this is extremely dangerous and irresponsible in a time where our president, who calls Penn his alma mater, has waged a war on truth and logic.
We understood that no high-level administrator was willing to talk to us. In this one-sided conversation, students had no voice. We decided to prove how loud the voice of students can be. On Thursday afternoon, we rallied over 130 students to gather in College Hall lobby.
We sent a document to the administration as we left that explained our deep grievances with the University. We explained that we demonstrated overwhelming student support for our cause, and that we are willing and able to mobilize many students. Due to this, we left three demands behind — actions to be taken by September 2017. Our demands are:
- Divestment from companies involved in the extraction of coal and tar sands
- The creation of an interdisciplinary task force that includes members of Fossil Free Penn to brainstorm and implement positive and impactful University climate solutions
- The public release of the analysis that had been used by the Trustees to reject fossil fuel divestment
These proposed actions will not help us, personally. We understand that, in the grand scheme of the world, we will be least affected by climate change compared to marginalized citizens of the world, as well as our children and grandchildren. These actions will only help two entities: the University of Pennsylvania, with impact and image, and the world.
We wanted to engage in open dialogue. We wanted to consider alternative options. We wanted to collaborate on positive impactful solutions. Instead, the University, one that claims to value collaboration and productive dialogue, just said “no."
ZACH RISSMAN is a College sophomore and Co-Coordinator of Fossil Free Penn.