UT environmental advocacy organization demands meeting with President Hartzell to discuss climate action after being denied

Tori Duff

Calls for climate action echoed through the UT Tower Tuesday morning as a group of about 30 students protested the University’s policies towards climate change and fossil fuel investments.

The organization Students Fighting Climate Change protested outside the Tower after they said their meeting with President Jay Hartzell to present a proposal on fossil fuel divestment and equitable climate action was canceled. The group took the protest inside the building as close to Hartzell’s office as possible and chanted, “Can you hear us? UT divest.”

“It’s disrespectful, unprofessional, and disturbing that they pick and choose which student issues to listen to, and that they try to divert our concerns to faculty members with less power,” SFCC said in a statement

According to SFCC, the group was scheduled to meet with Hartzell in Tuesday’s student advisory meeting, but the meeting was removed from the agenda less than 48 hours before. The group said in a statement that they were given no explanation as to why they were removed, and were instead told to speak to Darrell Bazzell, senior vice president and chief financial officer, who they had already spoken to.

“We didn’t come in there demanding that he closes the power plant immediately, addresses (fossil fuel) divestment immediately,” said SFCC activism director Penelope Ackling. “We understand that those aren’t things that he has the power to do … we were simply asking for a start to this conversation about true climate action on campus. And he refused us.”

The group’s divestment proposal suggests that the University send a formal message to the community acknowledging the climate crisis, form a diverse committee to create an equitable climate action plan and appoint professionals to transition the Carl J. Eckhardt power plant on campus to zero emissions.

The University currently has a sustainability master plan, which was written in 2016.

The President’s Student Advisory Committee allows student groups to voice their concerns to the president in scheduled meetings. Lauren McKinney, a senate appointee on the committee, said the council met with Hartzell and administration Tuesday, though Hartzell was in Washington, D.C. and joined virtually. 

McKinney, a sustainability studies senior,  said SFCC was the only student organization scheduled to appear at the meeting before they were taken off the agenda. She said SPCC was not allowed to sit in on the meeting. 

“PSAV doesn’t feel comfortable continuing to meet with the President and continuing to be the scapegoat of, ‘oh, we are hearing from students, we are getting the student voice,’ if the issues that we bring forth are being dismissed like this,” McKinney said.

J.B. Bird, the University’s director of media relations and issues management, said the student advisory meeting agenda is set by the student council, not the administration, and Hartzell only periodically attends the student-led meetings. However, PSAV said the administration removed SFCC from the meeting’s agenda. 

“That’s not a University administration meeting,” Bird said. “It’s a student government meeting, and the agenda is set by students who run student government.”

The Dean of Students replied to SFCC’s Twitter thread about the protest and said the group’s participation in the student advisory meeting was “a pending item, but ultimately not included in the agenda.” The reply also said Provost Sharon Wood and Jim Walker, the University’s director of sustainability would meet with the group to hear its concerns.

“We’ve met with Jim Walker dozens of times and we’re not interested in meeting with him and talking about the sustainability plan,” said urban studies junior Ackling. “We’re interested in addressing climate action at the UT system level. And the sustainability plan doesn’t talk anything about the University’s investments or their lands in West Texas, or the endowment.”