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June 6, 2017 | by  | in News Splash |
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UoA Students Occupy Vice-Chancellor’s Office

On May 30, University of Auckland (UoA) students staged a twelve hour sit-in at the clock tower building, which houses the Vice Chancellor’s office, before being removed by police.

A two and a half year campaign by the student group Fossil Free UoA has repeatedly called for full divestment from fossil fuels by the University of Auckland Foundation, the trust which manages and invests charitable funds for the benefit of UoA.

They also call for support from UoA’s Vice-Chancellor, Stuart McCutcheon.

Spokesperson for Fossil Free UoA, Alex Johnston, told Salient, “after that length of time we felt like we couldn’t wait for action from him any longer.”

“We’ve repeatedly asked the Vice-Chancellor to support divestment through petitions, through multiple letters, through meeting in person, and at every stage he would refuse to support divestment and wash his hands of the issue.”

The students were locked into the Vice-Chancellor’s wing by security to prevent other students joining them, and were repeatedly asked to leave. “We were prepared to stay as long as it took,” Johnston reflected.

The protesters were peacefully removed by police after more than 12 hours.

UoA released a statement in response to the protest, reaffirming that the Foundation managed its own funds.

“The University has a strong commitment to sustainability and improving its environmental performance. This includes institutional membership of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, through which we are working with other tertiary institutions and organisations across the public and private sectors globally to generate the solutions that will deliver on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.”

They declined to respond specifically to Salient on the matter.

Johnston was disappointed that the Vice-Chancellor had not addressed their demands or recognised the significance a public statement would have on the decision-making of the Foundation. “It showed that the Vice-Chancellor was not willing to meet with us to engage with us.”

“It didn’t address the demands and didn’t respond to what we asked. As the leader of the university, he can’t just sit on the sidelines. […] Investment is always a social decision, by not standing up for our futures he is saying that it’s okay for them to go about their current practice.”

Johnston said that the sit-in had resulted in an outpouring of support from the university community. Further, a letter sent to the Foundation, who failed to engage with Fossil Free UoA for over two years, “will be tabled at their next meeting on June 23.”

“It’s a sign of progress, and it’s in the public spotlight. They can’t ignore it any longer.”

Following the sit-in, hundreds of protesters took part in a March for Divestment on UoA’s central campus on May 31.

“It’s absolutely within the Vice-Chancellor’s ability to help push for this,” Johnston said. “It’s such a minor shift in their investments but sends such a strong message to the fossil fuel industry that this business model isn’t compatible with our future.”

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