Protesters, MIT administration reach agreement to end sit-in
Student activists and MIT administrators say they have reached an agreement that will end a 116-day sit-in and commit the university to taking several new steps to address climate change, but not involve fossil fuel divestment.
The pact, reached after four months of negotiations, says the university will “aspire” to become carbon-neutral as soon as possible, establish a climate action advisory committee, and hold a forum about ethical questions related to climate change. And on Thursday, for the first time since October, there will be no students, faculty, or alumni staging a sit-in in the administration offices.
Protesters, whose central goal was to convince the university to shed its investments in coal and tar sands companies, said the agreement is good enough for now.
“MIT still has more work to do,” said Jeremy Poindexter, a graduate student and member of Fossil Free MIT, the group that organized the sit-in. “But it’s progress.”
Students, alumni, and professors from Fossil Free MIT began the sit-in on Oct. 22, in response to the university’s announcement that it would not divest its endowment from all fossil fuel companies. President L. Rafael Reif said a better strategy is to engage with the companies to work to stop global warming.
“We could do more by working with these fossil fuel companies rather than calling them out and distancing them,” said Maria Zuber, MIT’s vice president for research.
Zuber, the main negotiator with the students, said MIT is a “community of overachievers,” and believes MIT will ultimately do more than the terms of the agreement to combat climate change.
Because the university has decided to work with fossil fuel companies and not divest, the agreement also calls for the newly established climate action advisory committee to provide advice about engagement strategies for working with fossil fuel companies.
During the sit-in outside Reif’s office, MIT protesters dislayed posters that stated their three demands. In addition to divesting the $13.5 billion endowment from coal and tar sands, they wanted to make the campus carbon neutral by 2040 and create an ethics advisory council to combat “disinformation” about climate change.
In January, students stopped sleeping in the hallway but arrived early each morning and stayed until around 10 each night.
Organizers believe this is the longest-running divestment sit-in for a college, breaking Swarthmore College students’ 32-day record several months ago.
The MIT sit-in garnered support for divestment from faculty, students, and alumni, and also from public figures including actors and well-known climate scientists.
Among those who spent time in the hallway was MIT business professor John D. Sterman, who said the sit-in showed the importance of not only science, but social action.
“The agreement with MIT reminds us that social movements work. Great science and technology are essential, but progress also requires political action,” Sterman said.