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NYU Divest protests at Sexton’s office

Courtesy of Charles Martin

Courtesy of Charles Martin

Scott Mullen, Deputy News Editor

NYU President John Sexton received an early valentine last Friday when members of NYU Divest visited his office with an oversized mock card signed by the fossil fuel industry. The card, presented as a thank you to Sexton for the university’s continued investment in the industry, was intended to encourage university officials to stop investing in fossil fuel companies.

GLS senior and event organizer Costanza Maio said the action was intended to send a clear message to university officials.

“I think the message of our actions was really that we’re aware of the process of divesting through the school’s bureaucracy, but at the same time we’re building up momentum to go around the system,” Maio said. “And when it comes down to it, we’re not afraid to put NYU’s public issue in
the limelight.”

Three members of NYU Divest — Maio, alumnus Blake Sugarman, and GLS freshman Olivia Rich — led the event dressed in costumes symbolizing the coal, oil and gas industries. In addition to presenting their card, they recited a poem outside Sexton’s office that satirically praised him for ignoring the will of his students and continuing to invest part of the university’s endowment in fossil fuels. Sexton was not there for
the presentation.

Sugarman said the goal of the action was to highlight their belief that the university should not be connected to the fossil fuel industry.

“We’re trying to show that it’s not acceptable to associate with the fossil fuel industry,” Sugarman said. “I thought it was a clever and provocative way to illustrate our point, but I think it’s a legitimate way.”

A group of about 15 students brought the card to Sexton’s office on Friday morning, which is Global Divestment Day, when the Fossil Free movement promotes demonstrations in favor of divestment.

Tisch senior and media coordinator for NYU Divest Charlie Martin said the demonstration successfully reached the administration.

“I think it sent a clear message to the administration that we don’t want to wait any longer to divest, and we’re trying to escalate our campaign in line with the Global Day of Divestment,” Martin said.

The goals of NYU Divest align with those of the greater Fossil Free movement. The group’s Facebook page calls upon Sexton and the NYU Board of Trustees to freeze any new investment in fossil fuel companies, and divest fossil-fuel related interests within the next five years.

According to a presentation the NYU Investment office given to University Senate Working Group on Fossil Fuel Divestment on Nov. 20, 2014, NYU invests about $139 million in companies that are part of the Carbon Underground 200, a list that ranks the world’s top fossil fuel companies. These investments amount to about four percent of the university’s endowment that is directly invested in CU200 companies, but the presentation argues that total divestiture from fossil fuels would require as much as 50 percent of the $3.4 billion endowment be divested because of the way the endowment is managed.

However, Martin said he thinks their cause is both economically viable and morally necessary.

“I think it’s important that NYU divest from the fossil fuel industry because it’s inconsistent with our principles as a sustainable campus that we’re invested in highly destructive industries,” Martin said. “Also, I think it’s imperative that NYU not be late on the game on this, and that we step forward and be one of the pioneers of divestment.”

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Feb. 17 print edition. Email Scott Mullen at [email protected]

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NYU Divest protests at Sexton’s office