By ANDREW HOLZMAN
Casual chit-chat and office banter at the University of Chicago president’s office was interrupted Friday when roughly two dozen students arrived to deliver a letter urging the university to divest from stock in companies which extract fossil fuels.
Plain-clothes and uniformed police officers were on hand to receive the students, who joined a wider movement to ask institutions of higher education to remove funds from stock in the corporations.
“There are some schools which are definitely ahead of us,” said Paul Kim, a leader of the informal group that presented the letter.
The letter expressed concern that fossil-fuel companies in which the university invests are in part to blame for recent natural disasters, including Hurricane Sandy.
“Climate change is the single greatest issue that our generation faces,” Kim said.
The students asked to deliver the letter to the president. Associate Dean of Students Belinda Vazquez was instead waiting to listen to the students and take their literature. She said the university had no comment on the delivery.
That may change, as Kim said concerned students have more events planned. “We’ve considered many different strategies for bringing this to the student body. We hope to meet with President Zimmer in person before the end of winter quarter,” he said, adding that the group will soon be holding a meeting with 50 to 75 representatives from student cultural groups.
The group faces an uphill battle unique even to other elite academic institutions. The University of Chicago has consistently rebuffed efforts by students to influence their investments over the years, citing the famous Kalven Report, named for law professor Harry Kalven Jr. who chaired a committee that concluded the university should not take collective action on “issues of the day.” That refusal has extended to investments mired in controversy in South Africa and Darfur.
Nevertheless, Kim was cautiously optimistic about the group’s chances of success.
“We’re trying to do something that has never been done with success before, but I still think we can win because I think this is something in the vital interest of every student who plans to live beyond 30 or 40,” Kim said.