Metro

UMass pledges to advocate for fossil fuel divestment

University of Massachusetts officials on Tuesday night pledged to move toward divesting from fossil fuels, hours after student protesters occupied an administrative building at the flagship Amherst campus.

The university said in a statement that it would “advocate for a policy that would see the five-campus UMass system divest and prohibit direct investment in fossil fuel companies.”

“Throughout my career, I have stood for environmental progress and reducing the carbon footprint,” UMass President Marty Meehan said in the statement. “Although we find ourselves meeting in a moment of contention, I embrace and I believe that the University leadership broadly shares the goals that the divest-campaign students have been advocating for.”

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Meehan and Victor Woolridge, chairman of the UMass Board of Trustees, will push for the policy change, and “the relevant UMass bodies -- the University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees, the University of Massachusetts Foundation, and the University of Massachusetts Foundation Socially Responsible Investing Advisory Committee -- [will] address the proposal at their next meetings,” according to the statement.

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Earlier Tuesday, a number of student demonstrators from the UMass Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign had occupied the Whitmore Administration Building to demand that the school shed all financial ties to fossil fuels.

The group had lamented Tuesday evening that protesters were being denied food while they occupied the building.

“100+ students have been kept in Whitmore for 2 hours after the building is closed and the University administration refuses to make a decision OR let pizza into the building to feed their students and faculty!” the group said on its official Facebook page.

The organization later said on Twitter that food was being delivered. They also claimed that Meehan and Woolridge “have been negotiating with us on the phone since 1, we have the power!”

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About 15 demonstrators were arrested Tuesday at about 9 p.m. for trespassing.

“This followed several warnings by UMass Police to the students that they would be arrested if they did not voluntarily leave the building,” the university said in its statement.

The student group posted video clips of the arrests on social media.

In one video clip posted to Twitter, campus police were seen leading students out of the building while a man watching them was heard saying, “should we clap? Why aren’t we clapping?” The crowd broke into a rousing chant of “we love you, we love you” soon after.

The divestment pledge from UMass on Tuesday night came after the university announced last year that the UMass Foundation, which oversees $770 million in endowment assets, would divest from direct investments in coal companies.

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University officials said at the time that the campuses had reduced carbon emissions by an average of 4 percent per year since 2007, when UMass leaders signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment.

Environmental advocates have pressed colleges and universities around the country to divest from fossil fuels in recent years as part of a coordinated push.

The movement reached Harvard University last year, when students staged a sit-in to demand that the Ivy League standard bearer divest from fossil fuels. Harvard officials said at the time that they did not plan to divest.

Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.