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Senate passes fossil fuel divestment bill

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.

  • Karrisa

    Bills like this are a classic example of why most of the student body doesn’t take the ASSU seriously.

  • holymoly

    Mr. Mouzykantskii, with all due respect, if “It is not the business of 19-year-olds to discuss what we should do about the University’s financial endowment,” then how can you justify voting for a bill that does exactly that?

  • max

    Why? I actually supported this bill

  • aaaandtheyredone

    I remember voting for senators who had platforms of direct democracy and REACHING OUT TO THE STUDENT BODY… aaaaaannnndddddd they just did the opposite. Can’t say I’m surprised. That decision had absolutely no input from anybody other than the group that was obviously in favor of it.

    Didn’t they even make a committee to talk to students, literally last week?

    Oh well, another shitty year ahead. I had hope. Fuck the ASSU.

  • karissa

    It’s a bill that is ill informed, misguided, won’t change anything for the positive, is political, and hypocritical given the use of fossil fuels by you and proponents of the bill. It is classic limosine liberalism: laws pushed by the rich which make others poorer or worse off, while the rich liberals who push such laws are able to afford or ignore the consequences. See Al Gore, net worth now likely over 100 million, and his many large houses and cars as an example.

  • yay assu!

    @holymoly: What do you propose young people do? I suggest they do everything. The Earth is important. The future is important. Animals are important. If old people won’t do anything about it, then we have to. Or else we’ll become old people who don’t do anything about it.

    @karissa: By the way, I agree with you that Al Gore is a problem. But an oft-made fallacy is to suggest that Gore’s wealth, multiple houses, large cars, basic inability to restrain himself from doing the stuff that rich people do, etc., somehow reflect poorly on his message. They don’t. He’s a rich guy who, in unrelated news, (mostly) gets the science right. But he’s also a huge hypocrite. That’s not science’s fault; it’s his fault. His hypocrisy and the science supporting climate change and ocean acidification have nothing at all to do with each other.

  • Senate Communications

    Senate Communications committee here.

    We publish all our meeting agendas (which contain all proposed bills) on our public mailing list, which you can subscribe to here:

    https://mailman.stanford.edu/mailman/listinfo/assu-senate
    If you have any interest in what your senate does, subscribe.

    The Fossil Fuels divestment bill has been on the agenda for the past 2 weeks, and anyone and everyone had the chance to come along and make their views heard. We meet every Tuesday, 7pm, in Nitery 209, and we’re all reachable by email through that list.

    As far as this specific bill goes, we really didn’t hear much against it. We all read the Stanford Review piece against this bill (http://stanfordreview.org/article/say-no-to-divestment-from-fossil-fuels/), and it’s a shame Mr. Camhi didn’t find the time to either email us individually with his views, or address the senate at the meeting.

    We would love to hear anything constructive you have to offer, either in person or by email.

  • Senate Communications

    Senate Communications here.

    Step one – subscribe to our list here: https://mailman.stanford.edu/mailman/listinfo/assu-senate

    Step two – come along to our meetings and make your views heard.

    Step three – make Stanford better.

  • Mr. M

    Miss. Svoboda quotes me out of context, let me explain.

    The Stanford Management Company invests the Stanford endowment in a way that maximizes return. They’re paid good money to do so.

    This quote is nabbed from a discussion of a (superfluous) amendment [which I was against] that would let the University dodge our recommendation under the pretext of maximizing return on investment. Maximizing return on investment is SMC’s job, not Senate’s (and, by extensions 19 year olds’) job. Senate wants to ensure that SMC’s investments are ethical and do not hurt the world we live in.

    Job of SMC – maximizing return.
    Job of Senate (and APIRL, but that’s a different story) – keep it clean.

  • disqus_OKgNtcHYdZ

    I bet not a single person in the senate knew that Oil companies such as Exxon, ARCO and Shell financed the pioneering of solar cell technology and are perhaps the single largest financial contributors in the past three decades for the development of solar energy. In fact, solar cells would have been completely ignored as a form of energy had it not been for Exxon’s SPC lab that developed the first economically feasible solar array.

    Sure, let’s all divest our money from those big bad oil corporations that sell the gas we love to buy.

  • asdf

    Speaking as someone who does not know the issue very well and thinks you may have a very good point with regard to the actual nuts+bolts effect of this bill … in the end I don’t think that Exxon et al really cares whether universities divest. It won’t change how they run their business. It also won’t have a significant effect on Stanford’s long-term financial growth. This vote has a separate symbolic importance: that young people care about the planet we are going to inherit and we demand more environmentally friendly regulations. Hopefully this could help lead to concrete, national policies such as taxing based on an energy source’s environmental impact.

  • disqus_OKgNtcHYdZ

    What you say is true; there will be little economic impact and the measure is a reflection of students’ (or at least the senators’) attitude towards companies that could be considered “environmentally scandalous” or detrimental to nature’s future. However, the problem here is that the assu’s reasoning behind passing the bill is based on two fallacies: that investing on oil companies is bad for the environment and that divesting from these companies on a large scale will make us arrive faster to a solution for the sustainable energy problem. Both of these fallacies would have been completely avoided had the decision been made by professionals who are qualified to ethically manage the school’s endowment rather than a gang of underclassmen with little knowledge of the issues intricacies. As one of the more sensible senators said: “It is not the business of 19-year-olds to discuss what we should do about the University’s financial endowment.” Props to the senate’s desire to help out, but its lack of professionalism and careful meditation was overall more detrimental than helpful.

  • Bob

    Saying “OMG guys this is a big issue and we have to do something” is not good justification to pass a meaningless and counterproductive bill that destroys any credibility the Senate may have had. Rather than trying to label people as “progressive” or “regressive” is a stupid tactic that divides rather than unites people.