York University could become the first university in North America to divest from arms manufacturing companies, if it heeds the recommendation of its advisory committee and the York community.
“This is a campus-wide initiative of people who said, ‘Look this is a good opportunity in a public university, especially one committed to social justice.’”said Richard Wellen, president of York University Faculty Association. “[The idea is] to take a stand against destructive armed conflict and make sure we don’t encourage it.”
The university’s Advisory Committee on Responsible Investment also voted in March to recommend the institute to divest from fossil fuel companies.
“Students do not want our places of higher education contributing to social, environmental and physical harm,” said Chenthoori Malakov, president of York Federation of Students, via email.
“Our students and their families come from various walks of life, many of which have been effected by war, genocide and persecution,” she said.
Laval is the only Canadian university to have committed to fossil fuels divestment.
Broad support for divestment
Since October 2016, the advisory committee had been considering two separate proposals on divestment. YU DIVEST, a coalition of students and alumni, had developed the first one, advocating the university drop investments in the arms industry.
The campus group Fossil Free York, which is part of the Fossil Free Canada Movement, made the second proposal.
“Students, faculty, staff and community members are highly engaged in both campaigns,” Malakov said.
“The YU DIVEST campaign for example, has been endorsed by more than 80 campus organizations, student clubs, college and faculty councils,” she said.
The advisory committee — composed of representatives from students, staff, and faculty — was formed in 2012 to reflect York’s values in its $413 million endowment fund.
The ultimate decision to divest can only be taken by the university’s board of governors.
Evan Johnston, spokesperson for York’s graduate students’ association, said he hoped that the board would heed the advice of the committee.
However, he said the board hadn’t always been willing to consider the views of the York community.
“We are waiting to hear back what the university’s response is. The recommendations have been made, but right now they are very tight-lipped,” Johnston said.
“And we understand this is not the outcome the board wanted because the board seems to not want to have to take any positions that could be controversial.”
Malakov said it was important to hold York accountable to its stated principle of social justice.
“For a university that lays claim to principles of social justice, investing in weapons and fossil fuels is contradictory to its principles,” she said.