News | Student Life

Columbia College students to vote on divestment ballot initiative

  • IT'S NOT EASY BEING GREEN | Allison Hooks, CC '16 (left), and Karina Jougla, CC '15 (middle), both of Barnard Columbia Divest, and Daniel Waid Marshall, Cornell '15, rally against the Keystone XL Pipeline in Washington D.C. in February.

For the first time in Columbia College history, students will be asked to vote on a ballot initiative emanating from a student group.

In addition to casting votes for their next University Senator from Wednesday to Friday, Columbia College students will be able to vote on a proposal for the University to divest from the 200 largest fossil-fuel harvesting companies.

The resolution was written by Barnard Columbia Divest and ratified by the Columbia College Student Council Sunday night after 482 students signed a petition. 

CCSC intends to vote separately as a council on BCD’s proposal at next Sunday’s meeting. Because the University Senate cannot declassify investment numbers, a CCSC vote would add pressure for the release of information about where the endowment’s funds are invested.

While the vote will not directly affect Columbia’s investment decisions, Daniela Lapidous, CC ’16 and a member of BCD, said that it will publicize the issue and put pressure on administrators to consider divesting. 

University President Lee Bollinger, however, has previously shot down the idea. At his first fireside chat of the semester last week, Bollinger fielded a question from a student about the divestment initiative. He said divestment serves as a symbolic gesture in response to social problems, and that he does not believe climate change warrants such action.

Columbia last divested from the government of South Africa in 1991, after students held demonstrations protesting South Africa’s policy of apartheid. But the decision to divest came more than 10 years after students began protesting the issue in 1978.

Lapidous believes that students need to take action where the administration has failed. Divestment from fossil fuel companies, she said, would be based upon moral opposition to the continued harvesting of fossil fuels.

“There’s a role of societal cornerstones: Our government has failed us, business has failed us, so we’re the next level of widespread social responsibility here,” Lapidous said. “If our administration is failing us, the next role is students.” 

The ballot measure, she added, would ensure that students can voice their opinions about where the University is investing its money.

“We are the students that make up these schools. We give the school money—we are the school,” Lapidous said. “We don’t know anything about where the money is invested.”

“We hope to use support from the student body to show administrators that support for divestment exists,” she added. “The ballot initiative is to bring student voices to issues that really matter to this school. We want to make sure that we’re really representing other people as well.”

University Senator Jared Odessky, CC ’15, said that combining the ballot initiative with the University Senate special election will hopefully increase voter turnout. 

Odessky added that he hopes that the complexity of the issue will strengthen the elections.

“This is a controversial issue to show that divestment is something students care about one way or the other, and in order to represent that, we’re going to need a strong basis of data to support it,” he said.

During the University Senate debates on Sunday, all nine candidates said that they support the divestment initiative. Overall student support, however, is more mixed.

Some students support the initiative wholeheartedly. Daniel Multer, CC ’16, said he plans to vote yes on divesting. 

“We don’t need to invest in oil companies that are hurting the environment. It’d be better to invest in companies that are doing stuff that are helping the environment,” he said.

Nathan Kim, CC ’17, said that even though he had not heard about the campaign, he would also vote in favor of divestment.

“I’m all for a green environment,” he said. 

Other students are still undecided or are against the measure completely.

Marial Quezada, CC ’14, said she was undecided. She said she first heard about the issue at Bollinger’s fireside chat last week. 

“I have to read the ballot first,” she said.

Sam Schipani, CC ’15 and a sustainable development major, said that she would vote against the divestment initiative. She argued that the money Columbia invests in these fossil fuel companies often funds research on alternative energy sources.

Schipani added that she’s had conversations with members of Barnard Columbia Divest, but she doesn’t see eye to eye with them on the issue.

“Their priorities are different. They don’t believe in big business good, and that’s justified. But companies like Shell have made great strides in infusing sustainability into their regular corporate practices,” she said.

Schipani added that big business and sustainability do not necessarily have to be at odds. 

“We should move towards that, not alienate the two,” she said.

news@columbiaspectator.com  |  @ColumbiaSpec

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Lapidous was the president of BCD. She is a member. Spectator regrets the error. 

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Michael Greenberg posted on

My vote in favor of divestment is the most important I have ever cast. Sam Schipani is wrong for two reasons. Firstly, divestment will not affect the size of the endowment. Second, fossil fuel companies are not looking out for what is best for the environment. If they cared about climate change, how would you explain the fact that the majority of their political donations went to people who deny its existence?

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Anonymous posted on

Hey Smarty pants. Did you see the detailed endowment return statements?

Absolutely that these investments grow the endowment. Fossil fuels and/or the companies report solid ROI's year over year. Pull up a simple chart if you want proof.

For FY 2011 Columbia's endowment generated 23.6% return: (http://news.columbia.edu/pressroom/2562). You are stupid to think fossil fuels had nothing to do with it. Get off your high horse.

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Sam Schipani posted on

FOR THE RECORD: I have a lot of friends in Divest and I think they're doing great work in bringing environmental issue awareness to campus and encouraging the university to be transparent about investments. I am just personally more in favor of working with large corporations to encourage development instead of divorcing such progress from big business. Do NOT necessarily use my opinion to make your decision on the ballot measure, but form your own opinion based on your beliefs!

As for commenters who have already addressed fallacies in my opinion, I would like to just clarify that I recognize many fossil fuel corporations have done a lot of harm in a lot of ways and make many sketchy investments. I understand this, but still believe on principle that the best way to encourage development is to get corporations with financial clout on board with development, whether environmental, economic, or otherwise. Again, this is JUST MY OPINION. THERE ARE MANY REASONS TO SIGN OR NOT TO SIGN THE DIVESTMENT PETITION. MAKE YOURS.

But everyone should enter the development discourse. It's fascinating and relevant. Bravo to Divest for bringing such an important debate to light!

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Ummmmmmmm posted on

"For the first time in Columbia College history, students will be asked to vote on a ballot initiative emanating from a student group."

Where are we getting this information, exactly?

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Tracey Wang posted on

Last year, CCSC voted to change the bylaws stating that petitions which are signed by 10% of the student body are allowed to be placed on the election ballot as a referendum. Before this measure was passed, no referendums from student groups were allowed on the ballot. The Barnard Columbia Divest is the first student group to submit a petition to allow students to vote on this ballot initiative, and the first to have successfully done so. Hope that answers your question.

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Don't kid yourself posted on

Where do you think Columbia gets the money for your full ride? Huh? Do you get a meal plan with that too? (And no, it's not just the Kluge fund).

Since it's a heart-wrenching major moral issue, are you willing to give back your institutional aid you got? Or Reduce the services you get? (I sure don't and have no intention to, and neither am I willing to pay higher tuition
or make others, especially future generations, pay more). And I bet none of you are willing to give back a dime of the aid (of any sort) you got. (Think funding building maintenance etc. and what you benefit from it)

Big institutions, like the one we are all apart of; CU, make strategic investments so as to maximize ROI. Don't kid yourself, CU endowment handlers are not trying to stick it up at you. If that was the case they would invest in every shady investment out there. The point of the endowment is simple, to get the biggest and fattest returns (which, after all, funds the university as a whole).

Prezbo is smart and a shrewd politician and politely shut those students up, and good for him. Screw all of you spoiled, rich, goody goody kids. When you have to work, or be inundated with loans, to be able to pay a $50,000.00 tuition bill, well, you sing different music. Just try it if you don't believe me. This is the real world where real numbers matter. Keep investing in fossil fuels CU. It's stable and earns constant high returns. Maybe CU should go back pre-Kluge fund, full-ride policy, days for one year and let's hear students singing than.

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