Tulane students protest, meet with Fitts; They seek divestment from oil industry
On Friday afternoon, after four days of sitting in the hallway outside Tulane University president Michael Fitts' office, a student-led activist group and its supporters marched through campus, banging on drums and loudly repeating their demands that the school remove fossil fuel companies from its endowment.
Fitts was attending a Tulane-related alumni event in New York this week, but he returned to campus Thursday, according to members of Divest Tulane. He met with students in the hallway of Gibson Hall on Thursday afternoon and engaged them in a brief question-and-answer session, students said.
Among the questions posed were why Fitts had issued no public statement in favor of divestment, and whether he feels accountable to Tulane students, a majority of whom have voted in favor of divestment, according to Divest Tulane.
Students in the hallway said Fitts replied he does not have a personal opinion about divestment, and that as president he is accountable to many different groups, including faculty, alumni and the Board of Tulane.
"We then asked the president if we could meet with the endowment committee ... to draft legislation that we could present to the board," said Elias Garcia, a sophomore member of Divest Tulane.
The president's response, Garcia said, was that no precedent exists for students to meet directly with the Board of Tulane.
"Our response to that was to say no precedent exists for students occupying your hallway," Garcia said.
History indicates otherwise. Twenty-five years ago, Tulane students occupied Gibson Hall to protest Tulane's investment in South African companies that supported apartheid, according to author and Tulane alumnus Tim Wise. The anniversary of that
That protest did not result in Tulane divesting from those companies, though South Africa's apartheid-supporting regime fell four years later in 1994.
Through a spokesman, Fitts said the sit-in "occurred in the midst of an ongoing conversation we have been having with Divest Tulane members about this issue."
"This conversation has included letters, emails and face-to-face meetings involving Divest Tulane leaders, Board of Tulane members and myself," Fitts continued. "We are currently working to arrange another meeting between Divest Tulane leaders and members of the Board of Tulane."
Garcia said Fitts' responses frustrated Divest Tulane members, who had hoped he would give them an opportunity to meet with the board. They expressed that frustration by continuing the protest and holding a rally outside Gibson Hall.
Chanting "Whose side are you on?" (a slogan used by other divestment campaigns at college campuses this week) the protesters marched to the Victory Bell on campus, where several students delivered speeches in favor of divestment.
Colleges around the country saw similar divestment protests this week.
Protesters at Swarthmore College occupied their administration's offices for the third consecutive week, according to MSNBC.
At Harvard, more than 1,000 students, alumni and professors took part in rallies and sit-ins. Some blocked entrances to administration buildings, forcing school officials to relocate to a nearby restaurant, MSNBC said.
Copyright 2015, The Times-Picayune
From: Jed Lipinski, "Tulane students protest, meet with Fitts; They seek divestment from oil industry," The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, April 18, 2015, NATIONAL,