The Collegian
Sunday, February 25, 2024

UR Faculty Senate unanimously passes climate justice resolution

The University of Richmond Faculty Senate wrote and unanimously passed a climate justice resolution calling UR to take action on the climate crisis.

The resolution, passed on March 17, includes recommendations for action on climate leadership, education, justice for community stakeholders and investment.

Political science and global studies professor Stephen Long, faculty senate president, said the absence of dissenting votes signifies that the university faculty are broadly in agreement that climate science is essential.

“It's time for us to put out a wakeup call,” Long said. “We care about sending a message to our students and the community that universities should take a leadership role in trying to figure out solutions to climate change and ways to reduce the impact of private individuals and institutions like UR.”

Economics professor Maia Linask, a co-author of the resolution, said one of the reasons the Senate thought it was important to draft and pass the resolution was that the climate crisis caused concern and even anxiety for many students.

“Research has shown that latent anxiety about climate change is affecting the mental health of young people today,” Linask said. “Addressing this concern presents a significant collective action challenge as it requires the collaborative efforts of all individuals involved.”

“We really want to do more to address the climate issue with the sense of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging,” geography and the environment professor Mary Finley-Brook, the other co-author of the resolution, said.

The amount of fossil fuels burned on campus is equivalent to that burned in 5,000 homes, Finley-Brook said. Despite the installation of 47,000 solar panels on campus to generate solar energy, UR has not been able to reduce the burning of fossil fuels, which is the primary cause of climate change and extreme weather, she said.

“‘Acknowledging climate change while still burning fossil fuels’ can be another form of soft denialism because it’s pretending the consequences are not happening,” Finley-Brook said.

An important aspect of climate justice is recognizing that disadvantaged communities and people are disproportionately affected by the consequences of climate change, Linask said. Those with lower income and living in vulnerable housing, such as trailer parks, are more susceptible to natural disasters. The destruction of their homes, coupled with a lack of financial resources to rebuild, is a double blow to these people and communities, she said.

A sustainable supply chain is crucial for achieving climate justice, Finley-Brook said. The resolution proposes to evaluate the labor conditions of workers involved in the production of athletic gear and clothing sold in the SpiderShop. 

Worker conditions and the ecological issues within the apparel industry are upsetting, as many young women working in factories lack proper ventilation and are exposed to toxic substances as they breathe for long hours, Finley-Brook said. While large corporations like Nike have made bold claims about their sustainability efforts, there is little transparency and accountability in their reporting, she said.

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Finley-Brook highlighted the need for the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association, the organization that invests faculty pensions, to assess carbon and climate risk in faculty and staff retirement portfolios. TIAA’s multi-billion-dollar investment in fossil fuels is not only harmful but also financially responsible given the growing economic concerns around climate change and the increasing divestment from fossil fuels, she said.

“They are actually risking our retirements, and it’s a very poor investment,” Finley-Brook said.

Incorporating climate education into general education will ensure that all students have the opportunity to learn about the topic, Finley-Brook said. This would promote interdisciplinary and cross-school initiatives since climate change cannot be tackled from a single discipline, she said.

There is an ethical obligation for well-resourced people and universities to mitigate climate change so that people who lack resources are not made even worse off, Linask said.

UR leaders, including the president, vice presidents, provosts, operating officers, board of trustees and vice-rector, must make the climate crisis a priority and increase their climate and environmental literacy, Finley-Brook said.

The Faculty Senate, composed of 17 members, is the representative body of all the faculty across all five schools at UR. The senate provides a place for discussing issues and policies affecting the entire university, Long said.

Long enjoys the work as it provides him with the opportunity to engage in conversations on various important topics on campus, he said. These topics include UR’s finances and decision-making regarding expenditures, admissions and financial aid. The senate allows faculty members to step out of their departments and into the broader university community to learn about various issues, he said.

Finley-Brook said the senate makes her think about UR in a way that might be different from teaching. It offers faculty members a more holistic view of UR and makes them better teachers, she said. 

Contact news writer Mo Song at mo.song@richmond.edu.

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