If you look at recent headlines from UConn Today you’ll see articles about a Sustainable Energy Summit, researchers exploring different facets of climate change, and UConn expanding its clean energy offerings. What you won’t see is a plan to divest from fossil fuels; decarbonize the UConn campus; or any willingness to be transparent with students about future plans for the university.
Last year, shortly after graduating from UConn, one of the authors of this article wrote a piece in the CT Mirror titled “UConn must stop greenwashing and respond to student concerns.” Despite continued protests and demands for action, UConn has continued to fail in responding to student concerns or creating a plan for change.
While many were optimistic at the prospect of having UConn’s newly inaugurated President, Radenka Maric, at the helm — having a background herself in hydrogen science, chemical and biomolecular engineering, and climate advocacy — it seems UConn may even be taking a step backwards with its climate commitments.
Over the past two years, students have held a number of protests targeting the University Board of Trustees and President Maric. In these protests, students demanded a concrete plan for how UConn will meet their stated goals of net-zero by 2030 and zero-carbon by 2040, as well as the immediate divestment of UConn’s endowment from fossil fuel companies. Over that time, students were repeatedly promised by university officials that they were hard at work creating a decarbonization plan that was supposed to be publicly released last spring. Students have yet to see that plan or any evidence that it exists.
The university also failed to divest the endowment from fossil fuels, despite claiming publicly that its investments would be phased out by 2025. What the university also doesn’t note, is that the 0.6 percent of the endowment that it claims to be phasing out only represents a fraction of its total investments; including its direct investments but not including its indirect investments, or those placed in funds containing fossil fuel companies.
The UConn Foundation has only publicly disclosed its total investments in fossil fuels once, estimated at roughly $9 million in 2019, and has since removed this disclosure from its website. Students have long demanded to know where their tuition dollars are being spent but have continually been rebuffed in these efforts.
Recently, the university said that they have already taken significant steps towards becoming carbon neutral by 2030, by “installing hydrogen fuel cells, enhancing efficiency of the onsite cogeneration power plant, and diverting food waste into compost and renewable energy production.”
What they fail to mention is that the cogeneration plant that UConn touts in its sustainability reports is run off of natural gas, that as of 2021, produced almost 77,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents in just one year. That’s about the same as 16,700 gas powered cars driving for a whole year. Thus far, there is no plan for reducing the plant’s emissions. Furthermore, focusing on food waste, while important, accounts for only 0.25 percent of UConn’s emissions, making it a negligible step towards decarbonization.
More broadly, UConn claims to be a leader in sustainability, while ignoring student voices. UConn has failed to offer transparency on its plan to decarbonize, and has instead worked to update the campus’ fossil fuel infrastructure, formalizing its dependency on fossil fuels for many years to come. If UConn truly wants to be a leader in sustainability, then they must meet students’ demands.
Just a few weeks ago, at a Board of Trustees meeting, the student group “Fossil Fuel Free UConn” delivered their demands on divestment and decarbonization. However, knowing that students have spent years fighting for action, for this generation of students to win, they need as much support as possible. The authors of this article, a current and former UConn student activist, have collectively been attending UConn for five years. During this time, students have been demanding the same action from the University at climate strikes, sit-ins, and more. We deserve action and accountability.
To fellow UConn alumni, please send a letter to the UConn Board of Trustees, UConn Foundation, and President Maric, asking that they meet student demands. To others interested in supporting, please sign this petition standing in solidarity with students.
We want to proudly say that we graduated from UConn. However, for many of us, when we think about our time as students, instead of thinking about our education or the connections we made, we think about the years that we spent fighting the very institution that claims to exist to educate young people like us. We don’t want that to be the legacy of our state’s flagship public university. We can and must do better. To do so, we must stand in solidarity with the students of UConn who are demanding that the University live up to its promises.
Sena Wazer of Mansfield is a 2022 graduate of the University of Connecticut. Colin Rosadino is a student at UConn Law.