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