77% of UNC-Chapel Hill students vote YES to divest from coal

by Jasmine Ruddy

On Tuesday, more than 4,200 students at UNC Chapel Hill demonstrated overwhelming support for divesting the university’s $2.1 billion endowment from the dirty coal industry. The referendum passed by a huge margin with 77% of UNC students voting in favor of coal divestment.

The campaign has gathered endorsements from The Daily Tar Heel, Campus YSierra Student CoalitionRoosevelt InstituteUNC Young DemocratsUNC Residence Hall Association and Student Power UNC and all five student body president candidates. The weeks leading up to the election proved how powerful and important it is to build broad support and meaningful coalition partners across campus to get things done.

Here’s what The Daily Tar Heel editorial board had to say:

There are many alternative options that the endowment can invest in, which not only will offer comparable, if not better returns, but don’t come with the environmental and ethical baggage of coal.

In today’s referendum, vote “yes” to divest the University’s endowment from coal and, by doing so, support UNC’s legacy as a mission-driven University.

Tuesday’s vote shows that UNC students support this idea by a nearly 4 to 1 margin. This means there are more than 4,200 students at UNC who want to see their endowment dump the coal industry from our investment portfolio and take an important step towards sustainable investing. Coal has no place in our endowment: it poisons our air and water, harms public health and wrecks the climate. 

In light of recent criticism around UNC’s endowment and how it’s invested, Chancellor Thorp, UNC Management Company CEO Jon King, and several other administrators agreed to participate in a Student Government forum about the endowment in November. The administrators made clear that they’re mostly just interested in saying “no” to doing anything positive to better align our investments with our mission at UNC because the only priority that matters is the purchasing power of the endowment (what about the destruction of the planet?). It was a feeble attempt at a two-way dialogue, and there was a serious lack of interest in looking at student ideas and proposals.

Our campaign started more than a year and a half ago. We took on the divestment strategy after UNC students successfully won a commitment from Chancellor Thorp in May 2010 to get UNC’s coal-fired power plant to commit to phasing out coal use by 2020. At the time, NASA climate scientist James Hansen said, “UNC-Chapel Hill is a model for how students and a university can work together with a civil constructive approach to ending our national addiction to coal.”

When we started this effort at UNC in the fall of 2011, there were just a handful of coal and fossil fuel divestment campaigns around the country. Today, there are 252 fossil fuel divestment campaigns (and growing!) across the country. It’s been an inspiring few months—in fact, it was Harvard’s successful divestment vote in November that inspired us to do this student body referendum!

Thank you to the students across the country who shared their love and support on Tuesday. This referendum is a powerful, symbolic message that has demonstrated the importance of this issue on campus, and we’re excited to continue to build campus support, engage more faculty and alumni and call on UNC’s Board of Trustees to allow us to present at their next meeting.

We’re calling on UNC administrators and trustees to respond to the referendum results, and we hope that this vote will serve as a catalyst to start a serious conversation about coal divestment at UNC.  

Stay up to date with our campaign: Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and check out our blog.


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