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UVic students challenge new president to shed fossil-fuel investments

A group of University of Victoria students is welcoming their new president with the message that it’s time to withdraw the school’s investments from the fossil-fuel industry.
Students paint a message for UVic’s new president, Kevin Hall, at the entrance to the university’s administrative building. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

A group of University of Victoria students is welcoming their new president with the message that it’s time to withdraw the school’s investments from the fossil-fuel industry.

About a dozen students took up paintbrushes Wednesday to create a message on the pavement in front of the administrative building where UVic president Kevin Hall has his office, with the message: “President Hall. Time to Divest.”

The temporary artwork depicts wind turbines, representing renewable energy options, and swimming salmon, a symbol of what is at stake without decisive climate action, said artist Emily Thiessen. Students used water-based paint for the pavement art, which they plan to wash off later this week.

The images are set against a contrasting black and blue backdrop, with black representing oil and fossil fuels and blue standing for clean air, water and “a healthy livable climate,” Thiessen said.

“I wanted to symbolize the choice that President Hall is presented with. And that UVic is presented with,” said ­Thiessen, a UVic alum who organized for Divest UVic when she was a student.

Divest UVic is a group of students, faculty and staff who have been lobbying the university since 2013 to withdraw the school’s investments from fossil-fuel holdings by 2025.

Last December, UVic faculty voted 77 per cent in favour of divesting from fossil fuels, and hundreds of faculty and staff have signed an open letter to the UVic Foundation chair urging the institution to withdraw shares in fossil-fuel companies.

Thiessen, who graduated in 2018, said she’s glad to see the divestment campaign is still going strong, but it’s disappointing that it’s still needed.

“It’s kind of shameful that UVic hasn’t divested yet and hasn’t been one of the first universities in Canada to do that. But I do think there’s still time to be a leader,” she said.

Emily Lowan, who led the initiative as director of campaigns and community relations for the UVic Student Society, said the new president, who started his five-year term Nov. 1, has committed to strong climate action, and the society looks forward to working with him toward common goals.

“We’re trying to demonstrate the strong support that divestment has on our university campus,” said Lowan, who is hopeful that a change of leadership will also bring a change in policies to address climate change.

“Ultimately, students are customers, and we want our university to align its words with its actions,” she said.

In January, UVic’s board of governors voted to approve a new investment policy for its $225-million short-term investment fund, committing to transition the fund from high-carbon-emitting companies, including fossil-fuel companies, to companies specializing in green sectors, such as renewable energy or clean technologies.

Lowan said the policy doesn’t go far enough.

“We are hoping for more transformative change through this whole term.”

Hall said in a statement that he shares the passion of students and faculty to respond to the climate crisis, and he has upcoming meetings with students to hear their ideas.

“I look forward to further discussions with our campus community about how we can do more,” he said.

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