By Christina Cilento
Northwestern University undergraduates passed a referendum vote on coal divestment on April 10, with 74.15 percent of votes in favor of the university removing its coal investments.
Just under 3,000 students voted in the election, which also included a vote on the student body’s new President and Executive Vice President candidates.
This was the first referendum question on an election ballot in at least five years, according to Dana Leinbach, the Associated Student Government parliamentarian.
Fossil Free Northwestern (previously Divest Northwestern) coordinated the referendum by getting 200 student signatures on a petition, which the group submitted to ASG. Fossil Free NU has been working since 2012 to get Northwestern to divest from coal companies and move toward divestment from all fossil fuels.
Resolutions in favor of coal divestment were passed in the student and faculty senates in early 2013, but the group said they wanted to re-gauge student opinion since then. They said they plan to use the strong statement of student support to escalate their action in the future.
“With this information we’ll have more lobbying power with the Board of Trustees,” said Kerry McFadden, a Weinberg sophomore and Fossil Free NU’s social media coordinator. “We can use this to ramp up the pressure on them and get some action.”
Fossil Free Northwestern has been meeting with NU’s Chief Investment Officer Will McLean for two years, and gained a first meeting with the head of the Board of Trustees’ investment subcommittee this fall. The team was notified in March that the subcommittee had voted “no” to coal divestment at their fall meeting—the first the group had heard of a vote taking place.
Despite the adversity, the team said having the support of students is a big win.
“I was excited that the student body has shown decisive support for coal divestment, despite the fact that Northwestern has not shown the commitment students desire,” said Weinberg sophomore Alex Kirschner, action coordinator for the group.
In addition to using the referendum to further their cause with administration, Fossil Free Northwestern is planning more interaction with the student body as well.
“We’re just going to have to work on getting the facts out to this 26 percent,” said McFadden.