Gregory Mikkelson, “Why I Resigned from My Professorship at McGill University”

It is a question of respect.

First of all, respect for the kinds of knowledge that scholars in universities create. Scholars in natural science let the world know in 2009 that we can burn only a small fraction of the underground reserves already discovered by fossil fuel companies and have a livable planet. Scholars in the humanities let the world know in 2010 that those fossil fuel companies have used the same techniques as tobacco companies did – and even employed the same people – to mislead citizens about the harms they cause, and thwart government action in the public interest. On the other hand, scholars in social science let the world know in 2013 how successful past divestment campaigns have been in creating political pressure resulting in such necessary government action.

Second, respect for the will of the people who work and study at universities. Divestment from fossil fuel has won strong support from students, faculty, and staff. In early February of 2020, the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences voted 179 to 20 in favor of divesting the largest university endowment in the world. The previous summer, the University of California’s Academic Senate also voted strongly in favor of divestment. Two months later, their Board of Regents agreed to do it. California’s 10-campus system is now selling off all fossil fuel stock from not only their $18 billion endowment, but also their $93 billion pension fund.

Unfortunately, the central administration and Board of Governors at McGill have little respect for either science or democracy.

When the Board refused Divest McGill’s request in 2016, they wrote as if that student group had made up all the arguments for divestment themselves, rather than acknowledging their solid grounding in peer-reviewed research. Meanwhile, the Board’s own 15-page « report » would have failed as an undergraduate paper. After I submitted a divestment motion to our Senate in 2018, the Principal and Provost tried to prevent it from even being considered. They complained repeatedly that the Senate had no business discussing such a supposedly non-academic topic – despite the fact that our own statute empowers the Senate to advise the Board on « any claims and needs of the University or any part thereof ». Despite their opposition, the divestment motion won by a crushing majority.

In response, our Board violated yet another one of the statutes they are legally bound to honor. This one calls for creation of a joint Senate-Board committee to resolve any disagreement arising between the two bodies. Instead, the Board referred the matter back to their own committee, chaired this time by a former Petro-Canada executive. This committee first delayed for an inordinately long time. Then, 15 months after the Senate resolution, they substituted what they call « de-carbonization » for divestment. While divestment aims to keep most fossil fuel in the ground, so-called « de-carbonization » only holds fossil fuel companies responsible for how efficiently they extract their product from the ground. Compare this insultingly late and weak response with the University of California Board’s two-month turnaround to full divestment after their Senate resolution, as mentioned above.

The McGill divestment campaign has had just about every democratic success imaginable. Every student, staff, and faculty organization considering the matter has endorsed it – not to mention the Senate, the largest and most representative body on campus. When our Board defied even this, I could no longer in good conscience work for an organization « governed » in such an anti-ecological, anti-humanitarian, anti-democratic, and anti-scientific way.

Gregory Mikkelson, 08.02.20

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Communiqué du GRÉEA* – Soutien à Gregory Mikkelson et appel aux responsables de l’Université McGill et de l’Université de Montréal à désinvestir des énergies fossiles

Par la présente, le Groupe de recherche en éthique environnementale et animale (GRÉEA) déclare son soutien à Gregory Mikkelson dans son choix de démissionner de son poste de professeur de philosophie à l’Université McGill, face à la volonté, récemment réaffirmée, du Board of Governors de maintenir ses investissements dans les énergies fossiles. Le GRÉEA salue la décision de Gregory Mikkelson tout en regrettant que l’autoritarisme et l’absence de considérations environnementales de la part de la plus haute instance dirigeante de l’Université McGill aient conduit l’un de ses membres à quitter ses fonctions d’enseignant-chercheur.

Considérant la responsabilité des industries fossiles dans les destructions écologiques et les perturbations climatiques actuelles, ainsi que les conséquences environnementales et sociales inacceptables qui les accompagnent, le GRÉEA demande au Board of Governors de revoir expressément sa position et d’entamer un retrait total de ses investissements dans ces industries. Le GRÉEA demande également au Board of Governors de s’engager à réembaucher Gregory Mikkelson à son poste professeur en philosophie dès lors que les engagements de McGill en matière de désinvestissement rempliront les demandes exprimées dans la motion votée par son Sénat.

Parallèlement à cette prise de position, le GRÉEA appelle les instances dirigeantes de l’Université de Montréal, à laquelle plusieurs des membres du GRÉEA sont affilié-es et où le GRÉEA organise la plupart de ses activités de recherche, à revoir leur politique d’investissement. Contrairement à d’autres universités québecoises, l’Université de Montréal et l’Université McGill font encore partie de celles qui n’ont pas encore entamé d’action en faveur d’un désinvestissement significatif de leur fonds de dotation.

Le désinvestissement n’attend pas !

*Le présent communiqué a été transmis, dimanche 9 février 2020, aux membres du Board of Governors de McGill et du Conseil de l’Université de Montréal. À l’Université de Montréal, il a également été adressé au Vice-recteur aux finances et aux infrastructures, au Vice-recteur adjoint aux finances, au Doyen de la Faculté des arts et des sciences et à la Présidente du Syndicat général des professeurs et professeures de l’Université de Montréal (SGPUM).