Skorton Rejects Faculty Senate Resolution Calling for Divestment

Skorton said that the faculty should reorient their efforts towards climate change research..

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By Sofia Hu via The Cornell Daily Sun, 2/26/14

“Divestment is not worth the risk,” President David Skorton said at a University Assembly Thursday in response to a Faculty Senate resolution passed that called on the University to divest from the fossil fuel industry.

The Faculty Senate — which passed the resolution on Feb. 12 — also called for the University to reach carbon neutrality by 2035, instead of the University’s original goal of 2050, The Sun previously reported.

Though Skorton said he endorses the carbon neutrality goal of 2035, he said he does not currently support divesting from the fossil fuels industry because the University currently has a “barely balanced budget.”

This year, the University is expecting revenue to exceed its $2.1 billion budget by $3.5 million, a margin of 0.2 percent. Skorton described this margin as a ”thin line” and said he was not willing to risk having the University face a deficit by divesting from fossil fuels.

“I don’t know for sure whether divestment will hurt our endowment or not,” Skorton said. “But I’m not willing to recommend it. I cannot tell you it’s safe to divest.”

While the University will not divest from the fossil fuel industry, the Office of University Investments has invested $71-million in alternative energy and sustainable developments, Skorton said in a written response to the Faculty Senate resolution.

On the carbon neutrality front, Skorton said steps have been taken towards the earlier goal of 2035, but there are also several hurdles, including a lack of available technology and the difficulty of changing habits — such as turning off lights and turning down the thermostat during the winter. The University is one-third of the way towards the goal, according to Skorton.

 

The University has currently spent $40 million out of an allocated $64 million to make campus buildings more energy-efficient, Skorton said.

Additionally, Skorton said he believes that new carbon-neutral technology must be developed. In a written response to the Faculty Senate, he said that the faculty should reorient their efforts towards climate change research.

Skorton acknowledged that the campus is “energy hungry” due to the number of campus buildings that must run scientific instruments 24 hours a day.

Skorton’s response to the Faculty Senate resolution follows a string of discussions on divestment, which has beco’me a widely debated topic on campus since the Student Assembly passed a resolution in Feb. 2013 urging the University to divest from the fossil fuels industry.

Skorton’s rejection of divestment, however, does not preclude divestment efforts led by other members of the Cornell community. The University Assembly can still decide to support the divestment movement and recommend it to the Office of University Investment, Skorton said.

The University Assembly will discuss divestment at their next meeting on March 11, according to Jim Blair, the executive committee chair of the U.A.

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