A University Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand

In the light of the historic agreement in Paris, I was inspired to write my two cents on the dialogue between current University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel and the Divest and Invest initiative covered by the Michigan Daily. For transparency’s sake, I study many of the terrifying outcomes and potential innovative solutions in regards to climate change, and I am a supporter of the initiative. At the same time, I am employed, housed, sponsored and taught at the University, which is certainly a tremendous privilege. Although I am a foreign national, I am very much an insider of the global issue of climate change, and I find myself extremely preoccupied with President Schlissel’s stance on the issue.

The amounts of experience and sheer brilliance of many people at this University ought to enlighten whoever comes across it and serve as inspiration and groundwork for excellent decision-makers all around the world. Somehow, amidst expertise and convincing research performed within its walls, the President, the leader of this institution, fails to see, or at the very least have the courage to embrace, the conviction and pragmatism of his faculty and student body.

Climate change is product of humans, and its solution, if any, will be product of humans that are given the opportunity to address it. The truly “enduring framework for human progress… that gives the world confidence in a low-carbon future”, as he quoted President Obama, is the adoption of the cleanest technologies possible while we still have a future to look forward to – and not the Band-Aid of soft policies the President’s office has passed forward in the past few months.

I would like to remind people of particularly simple terms of the English language, which although not my own, are vital in this context. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, a ‘university’ is a term derived from the Latin universitas, which ought to “denote a community regarded under its collective aspect”. The ‘collective’ “denotes a number of persons or things considered as one group or whole”, while ‘aspect’ “denotes a part of a something” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

On the matter of climate change, President Schlissel speaks for no collective beyond the aspects of his own character. If he indeed believes that an institution of U of M’s size and reach, with the largest network of outstanding minds in the planet, has no power to “speed up the necessary transition from coal to renewable or less polluting sources of energy” he does not truly understand the institution he is in charge of. If this is truly his position, President Schlissel undermines the capability of the people who make the ‘university’ a whole: its students and its faculty.

If he wrote this letter with his own hands and intellect, claiming “‘we’ made a commitment to our donors to use income generated from the endowment to support our mission for today and for future generations”, he forgot to consider people who suffer, around the world, today and tomorrow, because of the effects of emissions from our so called ‘university’ and its sister institutions. If President Schlissel does not care to steward our great ‘university’ in that effort, with significant, timely divestment and ethical decision-making, he is nothing but a replaceable ‘aspect’ which does not belong in our ‘collective’.

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