Wednesday, June 01, 2016

UMass Divests From Fossil Fuel Industry That 'Perpetuates Injustice'

The winters are cold in Amherst, Massachusetts, where the state university relies on a modern central heating plant that burns natural gas most of the time, switching to fuel oil when gas is not available.

But no matter.

Now that spring is here, the heat is coming from students who are horrified at the university's financial investments in fossil fuels.

Following protests (and student arrests) last month, the UMass System announced on Wednesday that it is the first major public university in the United States to fully divest from the fossil fuel industry.

The announcement on Wednesday said the Board of Directors of the UMass Foundation, which is responsible for overseeing the university's $770-million endowment, voted unanimously to divest all direct holdings in coal, oil and gas.

The money will be re-invested in projects and funds "on the frontlines of the climate crisis."

“This decision is not only an enormous victory for this campaign and for UMass, but for the global climate justice movement,” said Kristie Herman, a recent graduate and four-year "core organizer" of the campaign. 

"As the first major public university to fully divest from fossil fuels, we are showing the country and the world that our institutions have a responsibility to align their investments with the public interest, and to sever ties with industries that perpetuate injustice.

"We have pushed our leaders to act with the urgency of this crisis, which has already caused millions of climate related deaths and is making communities across the world uninhabitable every day.”

UMass said it is joining an international movement of more than 500 universities, religious organizations, retirement funds, and other institutions in committing to some level of fossil-fuel divestment.

The decision follows a recent week-long sit-in at a university administration building, where 34 students were arrested in what they describe as an "act of nonviolent civil disobedience."

Marty Meehan, president of the UMass System, said the divestment "is consistent with the principles that have guided our university since its Land Grant inception and reflects our commitment to take on the environmental challenges that confront us all.

"Important societal change often begins on college campuses and it often begins with students," Meehan said. "I’m proud of the students and the entire University community for putting UMass at the forefront of a vital movement, one that has been important to me throughout my professional life."

The UMass Foundation's Board of Directors has described climate change as “a serious threat to the planet.”

“Divesting from investments in any particular sector is not done lightly, and we have done so rarely,” said UMass Foundation Treasurer and Investment Committee Chairman Edward H. D’Alelio.

“The Foundation’s primary responsibility is a fiduciary one. Its primary mission is overseeing the endowment in an effort to maximize returns on funds donated for research, academic programs, financial aid and other purposes. That we took this step reflects not just our comfort as fiduciaries but the seriousness with which we see climate change.”

The UMass Board of Trustees is expected to endorse the Foundation’s divestment decision when it meets on June 15.

The UMass Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign, the group that launched the divestment movement four years ago, said in a news release that the global "climate crisis" stems from "economic inequality and climate change."


Confederate General Falls to Political Correctness in Texas Capital

Another historical Confederate figure fell to political correctness, this time, for the first time, at a public school in the Texas state capital.
On Monday, May 23, Austin Independent School District board of trustees voted 8-0, with one abstention, to rename the elementary school named for Gen. Robert E. Lee to Russell Lee Elementary.

This “Lee” is the acclaimed Depression Era social-documentarian who founded the UT-Austin photography program. He is best known for his U.S. Farm Security Administration images captured between 1936 and 1943. The university’s Briscoe Center for American History houses his extensive photographic catalog.

In April, Breitbart Texas reported on the 15-page list of names from which Russell Lee was chosen. However, the name that topped the list was Donald J. Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, real estate mogul and reality-TV star. The Campus Advisory Council (CAC), which oversaw the search for a new namesake, would not even consider Trump as a viable option, Austin’s KXAN (NBC) reported.

Russell Lee’s name actually came in third on that list, behind those in favor of keeping the school named after Robert E. Lee. The advisory council is made up of teachers, staff, parents and other members of the school community.

The photographer was not trustees’ first choice, either. Bettie Mann, the school’s first black teacher, was the sentimental favorite. Mann, 85, a CAC finalist, did not even appear on the April Top 10 list, although the Austin American-Statesman reported a community effort arose to rename the campus for the beloved educator. Another CAC pick was Wheeler’s Grove, the original name of Eastwoods Parks, the first Austin public space where the black community celebrated Emancipation Day, the freeing of the slaves, according to the Statesman. Even another “Lee,” the late author Harper Lee, made the CAC’s final list of eight candidates.

Previously, KXAN reported the CAC explained its list of finalists in a statement. It read: “What clearly emerged was that the most meaningful names must have local significance, must honor our history, and must reinforce our belief in diversity and education for all.”

Mann was present at Monday night’s board meeting. She told KXAN before the meeting she did not want to see the name Robert E. Lee change – until she became a finalist. Mann taught at the elementary school for 37 years. The school’s kindergarten wing will be named for her. A playground may be named to commemorate Wheeler’s Grove.

Trustee Ted Gordon shared that he worked at UT-Austin for 28 years, suggesting the “problem for me” with rebranding to Russell Lee was the name was chosen to retain the “Lee” name. He said, “It seems to me that the name Russell Lee was chosen precisely because it’s reminiscent of the previous name.”

He added, “In being reminiscent of the previous name, it is being chosen to protect the sensibilities of those who don’t care about the sensibilities [of those] who have been, in some sense, damaged or aggrieved by the Confederate name itself.”

Still, the board abided by CAC and community consensus that overwhelmingly desired keeping the name “Lee” as its moniker. Board member Amber Elenz said, “This name change is really only happening because the school asked us to make it happen.”

In January, an advisory panel estimated signage replacement costs at $14,000. Elementary school rebranding expenditures are significantly lower than high schools where sports related uniforms, equipment, booster and spirit wear drive up dollar amounts.

Robert E. Lee Elementary opened in 1939. It is one of five Austin ISD schools with a Confederate connected name. This marks the first public school in the Texas capital city of Austin to rebrand in response to last year’s horrific South Carolina hate-crime shootings, which left nine black church parishioners dead. The tragedy sparked a politicized movement to dump Old South symbology.

At the height of the nationwide crusade to remove all Confederate iconography, the University of Texas at Austin uprooted its main mall statue of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy. It will instead become part of an educational exhibit at the Briscoe Center.


Mexican-American textbook in Texas slammed as racist

A textbook proposed to help teach the cultural history of Mexican-Americans in Texas public schools is under scrutiny by scholars, some of whom decry the effort as racist and not a reflection of serious academic study.

The textbook, titled "Mexican American Heritage," describes Mexican-Americans as people who "adopted a revolutionary narrative that opposed Western civilization and wanted to destroy this society." It also links Mexican-Americans to undocumented immigrants, saying illegal immigration has "caused a number of economic and security problems" in the U.S. that include "poverty, drugs, crime, non-assimilation, and exploitation"

The State Board of Education voted to include textbooks on Mexican-American studies after activists last year demanded the subject be formally included in state curriculum. "Mexican American Heritage" is the first textbook on the subject included in a list of proposed instructional materials.

"Paradoxically, we pressed for the board to include texts on Mexican-American studies, and we achieved it, but not in the way we were expecting," Tony Diaz, host of Nuestra Palabra (Our Word) radio program in Houston and director of Intercultural Initiatives at Lone Star College-North Harris, told the Houston Chronicle. "Instead of a text that is respectful of the Mexican-American history, we have a book poorly written, racist, and prepared by non-experts."

The Texas Education Agency says it followed standard procedure for the call to submit instructional materials for Mexican-American curriculums for the 2017-2018 school year.

Texans have until September to submit comments on the proposed instructional materials, said TEA spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson. She also said the proposed textbooks will undergo review by a committee that includes teachers and administrators and that committee will make recommendations to the board.

Ultimately, books adopted by the elected members of the Texas State Board of Education in November become part of the recommended instructional materials for statewide curriculums, but school districts aren't required to embrace them. Individual districts can use their state money to buy whatever textbooks they wish.

The book "is not a text that we have recommended nor we will be recommending," says Douglas Torres-Edwards, coordinator of a TEA-approved Mexican-American studies course that has been implemented in some Houston Independent School District schools. "Frankly, that author is not recognized as someone who is part of the Mexican-American studies scholarship and most individuals engaged in scholarship will not recognize her as an author."

The book is produced by Momentum Instruction, a company that appears to be owned or operated by Cynthia Dunbar, a member of the Texas State Board of Education from 2007 to 2011. Dunbar, a right-wing Christian activist who questioned the constitutionality of public schools in 2008, labeled the education system "tyrannical" when she published her book, "One Nation Under God," while serving on the board.

The Chronicle was unable to reach Dunbar or any of the books other authors. A phone message and email to Momentum Instruction from The Associated Press were not immediately returned Monday.

The Texas Board of Education's members sanction textbooks for use statewide in a process that has for years been marred by ideological fights over lessons on subjects including evolution, climate change and the influence of biblical figures such as Moses on America's Founding Fathers.


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