Students call for UF to cut ties with fossil fuels & prison labor

Via The Gainsville Sun | Daniel Smithson

Members of Divest UF attended the UF Board of Trustees meeting Friday.

More than 50 members of an activist group pushing for the University of Florida to cut its investments in the fossil fuel industry and to stop using prison labor showed up to a UF Board of Trustees meeting Friday, urging them to act quickly.

The group, Divest UF, received little reaction from the board.

Seven students addressed trustees, asking them to withdraw UF’s investments in companies that support fossil fuels, including the campus’ utility provider, Duke Energy.

UF’s board of trustees, which met Thursday and Friday, sets policy for the university.

Students called on UF to use Gainesville Regional Utilities, because it has a biomass plant that produces, on average, about 27 percent of the city’s monthly power.

The majority of GRU’s energy is produced using natural gas and coal.

It was not clear Friday which companies in UF’s investment portfolio are tied to the fossil fuel industry.

Marcela Mulholland, Divest UF lead organizer and a senior, called it “depressingly ironic” the Florida flagship university would invest in fossil fuels as she learns about their harmful effects in class.

During her allotted three minutes to speak to the board, Mulholland asked board members if any of them live in South Florida or if they have loved ones there.

Some trustees raised their hands.

Mulholland told the board that climate change science shows that if the fossil fuel industry is not put under control, South Florida will eventually be underwater. Her point got snaps from her fellow activists.

Other students spoke to the board about UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ use of prison labor on its farms — some comparing it to slavery.

UF spokesman Steve Orlando said IFAS does use such labor but it’s a voluntary program.

Board of Trustees chairman Mori Hosseini thanked each of the students for their input but did not address their pleas for UF to cut its ties with the companies or to end prison labor.

The University of Florida Investment Corporation and Divest UF met this week to discuss what can be done, according to a Divest UF media release.

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