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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

University building occupied by pro-divestment protesters

A group of Oxford alumni has occupied a University building in protest at the University Council’s ruling to defer a decision on fossil fuel divestment.

Cherwell understands that the alumni entered the Clarendon Building on Broad Street, an administration building for the Bodleian Library, at 4.30pm today, occupying one of the offices. The administrative staff present left the premises and were replaced by a group of porters. The police were called. Among the protesters was John Clements, formerly the University’s Director of Finance.

Andrew Taylor, the Fossil Free Campaign Manager at People & Planet, an environmental student campaign network, said in a statement, “It is unacceptable that the University of Oxford is refusing to take urgent action and call out the rogue fossil fuel industry that is driving climate change. This is a needless delay by powerful decision-makers at the University of Oxford, while the citizens of vulnerable nations like Vanuatu face the consequences of inaction.”

The University’s decision comes after a protracted divestment campaign from a number of student groups. Within Oxford, the campaign has received support from 14 JCRs and 14 MCRs, representing roughly 8,200 students. A number of alumni, including solar energy entrepreneur Dr Jeremy Leggett and journalist George Monbiot, have promised to hand back their Oxford University degrees if the University does not commit to divestment from fossil fuels.

Worldwide, divestment campaigns are gathering momentum. The UN yesterday announced its support for divestment campaigns, while the Guardian today launched the ‘Keep it in the Ground’ campaign, urging the Gates Foundation and Wellcome Trust to divest from fossil fuels.

If the University does decide to divest, it will follow in the footsteps of leading universities including Stanford and Glasgow. Its endowment is estimated to stand at £3.8 billion.

A spokesperson for the University said, “Last October’s Oxford University Student Union resolution has raised an important and multi-faceted matter which requires thorough consideration. The University Council had a good discussion of the issues and agreed to consider the matter further at a future meeting.”

With regards to the occupation, Cherwell has yet to receive from the University a reply to its request for comment.

OUSU President Louis Trup was present at the meeting. In a statement, he said, “University Council has seriously considered the proposals and has decided it wants to get more information before making a final decision, most likely in May. I hope that in the time between then and now, students continue to make it clear that the university has a moral duty to the planet and to the Oxford University researchers who are leading calls to divest. My colleagues and I who sit on University Council will then be able to show that the significant student view and the undeniable scientific evidence must not be ignored.

“I also want to thank OUSU’s Environment and Ethics campaign for their work on this, which has proven that students can force the university to tackle these big issues.”

OUSU’s Environment & Ethics Fossil Free Campaign said in a statement,  “Today, Oxford University Council met to discuss proposals for fossil fuel divestment. We are disappointed that they have deferred this important decision until a future meeting. This deferral represents serious complacency towards the urgent need for action on climate change.”

It pledged to continue lobbying the University, adding, “We appreciate the University’s active engagement with the student body on this issue, and  strongly urge the University to make the right decision without delay.”

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