Students Fighting Climate Change begin climate conversations with administration, want to speak to President Hartzell

Tori Duff, News Reporter

Following criticism of UT’s climate action initiatives, UT President Jay Hartzell recently approved a $220,000 increase in funding for the Office of Sustainability and will gather student feedback to make changes to the University’s Campus Sustainability Plan.

Some faculty members have reached out to Hartzell, asking him to continue efforts to update the 2016 Campus Sustainability Plan. Hartzell responded on Nov. 10 in an email obtained by The Daily Texan detailing recent efforts UT has made to make the campus more sustainable.

The email follows controversy over UT’s communication with student climate activists regarding the University’s negative environmental policies, such as its continued investment in fossil fuels. Last month, members of advocacy group Students Fighting Climate Change protested after it was taken off a meeting agenda where they would have spoken with Hartzell and top University administration on the college’s climate policies.

At the Oct. 26 meeting, the group intended to propose a five point plan on climate equity, which included Hartzell formally acknowledging the climate crisis and forming a diverse committee to create a climate equity plan.

“SFCC has kind of taken on the role of trying to hold administrators accountable and make sure that they keep making commitments to realistically address how UT is perpetuating the climate crisis,” said Penelope Ackling, SFCC activism co-director.

Lauren McKinney, a member of the President’s Student Advisory Council said administration took SFCC off the October agenda because PSAC did not go through proper procedures to get SFCC representatives approved to speak. However, UT administration said students determined the agenda for that meeting.

“Most of us were fairly concerned or confused (because) we weren’t really told there was a full procedure,” McKinney said. “We’re very limited in what we can actually voice. …  It’s so restricted that we have to get approval for everything we want to bring forth.”

Following the protest, Ackling, a sustainability and urban studies junior, said the group reached out to Hartzell via email to try to set up a meeting. While the group still has not met with Hartzell, Ackling said several members met with the Office of Sustainability and administration last Wednesday to discuss their proposal. Ackling said during the meeting Jim Walker, director of the Office of Sustainability, agreed to work on creating a Climate Equity Plan Committee to meet one of their demands.

Walker could not be reached for verification by the time of publishing.

While Ackling said these are positive steps for climate action, the group still wants to see a direct acknowledgement of climate change to create an ideological shift, rather than just talk about sustainability.

“Can we go to (Hartzell) directly and bring up these concerns and try to start some meaningful change on campus?” Ackling said. “The acknowledgment has to come from President Hartzell.”

On Tuesday, PSAC met with administration and Hartzell. McKinney said SFCC was not on the agenda for this meeting, but she attended to give a presentation on the group’s efforts and is planning to continue pushing to allow the group to speak directly to Hartzell.

The University could not comment on whether SFCC will be able to meet with Hartzell or the outcomes of the Tuesday meeting, but spokesperson Eliska Padilla said leadership would continue conversations with the group.

“University leadership had the opportunity to meet with students and hear their thoughts about climate change and UT’s sustainability efforts,” Padilla said. “Leadership shared with students the letter from President Hartzell about sustainability efforts and committed to meeting with students again to continue the conversation.”