Daniel Lawhon of the UT Coalition for Responsible Investment stood before the faculty senate Monday, asking for a partnership in the coalition's fight for divestment at UT.
After calling for a brief moment of silence for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, Lawhon, a junior in physics and electrical engineering, explained how disasters like the typhoon will only increase if global warming is not battled.
Lawhon and his coalition are calling for UT to divest investments from companies associated with environmentally harmful actions.
Although UT has already committed to being 100 percent carbon neutral by 2061, Lawhon pushed for another step.
"Despite our stance against the long-term use of fossil fuels, our university endowment currently has holdings in a significant number of fossil fuel companies," Lawhon said. "We own the very companies that we work to reduce our dependence upon. It defies basic financial sense to invest in an industry that we not only see as in decline but the decline of which we actually support."
The divestment campaign's goal focuses primarily on working with the university to immediately freeze any new investments in fossil fuel companies, divesting current holdings in fossil fuel companies within five years and creating a subcommittee to work with the board of trustees and evaluate UT's portfolio for socially and environmentally investments.
Nationally, 18 cities, 21 religious institutions, eight universities and two counties have either divested or committed to divest their portfolios from the fossil fuel industry. Given that these schools are private and relatively small, UT would be the first public and the largest university to divest its holdings, should it commit to do so.
"Especially being in the south, being the first SEC school to divest would be an awesome accomplishment," Lawhon said. "We've really got our fingers crossed on that, and we think we can pull it off. Even though it's still a full fight ahead, we've already accomplished a lot in the past year that we're really proud of. I think it's inevitable."
Last spring, the proposal appeared on the SGA ballot to gauge student support. Eighty percent of voters supported the plan.
"We want UT to be a leader in sustainability and start a movement that calls on all campus and other institutions to divest form fossil fuels," said Kristen Collins, a senior in environmental studies.
But several members of the senate questioned the financial stability of this plan. Citing studies reflecting insignificantly different or worse performance, professors of finance noted that preventing the portfolio from investing in a certain type of company could negatively impact the portfolio.
David Golden, president of faculty senate, made a decision to have the plan go through the budget and planning committee to verify its structural and financial stability.
"The faculty senate has a number of committees that take on responsibilities," Golden said. "I've asked the budget and planning committee to take a look at the resolution that the coalition has put forth and hopefully work together to develop some sort of positive way to move forward."
Lawhon agreed with the decision and hopes this will spark partnership between students and faculty. He said it was appropriate to send the plan through the correct channels of faculty senate.
"We're not in a race to get it done," Lawhon said. "Hopefully, we'll see something come out of there similar to what passed through student senate and can be voted on at the next faculty senate meeting."
In the meantime, the coalition will continue to petition on Pedestrian. On Thursday at 8 p.m., the coalition will host a fundraiser with live music at the Birdhouse.
This campaign is a year old and has worked throughout the year to gain momentum via increased involvement with students and faculty.
"We realized that, as students, we have a say in the university's investments and are using that power to ask the university to stop investing in fossil fuels to fight climate change," Collins said. "We believe climate change is the biggest issue of our generation.
"Students want UT to divest from fossil fuels and lead the way to climate solutions."