The University of Connecticut Board of Trustees made an ambitious — and surprising — step toward sustainability on Wednesday, Oct. 25, when the board unanimously approved a statement committing UConn to carbon neutrality by 2030 and carbon zero by 2040, according to The Daily Campus. Over 30 students from Fossil Fuel Free UConn, a student-led coalition with the goal of eliminating the university’s dependency on fossil fuels, packed the board meeting at which the statement was read and approved, representing a culmination of years of activism pushing the university to end its contribution to global climate change.
The statement, which is posted on UConn Today, shows the board’s support for “the alignment of resources to advance research and scholarship in fields related to climate, sustainability, and clean energy; the activism shown by members of our community to help devote maximum attention to this issue; and UConn’s ongoing efforts to ensure our own campuses are remade over time into models of sustainability.”
The Daily Campus Editorial Board recognizes the tremendous impact that student activism has had on what we hope is a pivotal change in UConn’s green energy transition; furthermore, we are optimistic that the board’s statement will be the catalyst for a more expedient, collaborative and transparent approach to the university’s carbon neutral and zero carbon goals.
However, our optimism is matched by caution, informed by UConn’s track record of abandoning equity and climate-driven commitments due to funding shortfalls from private donors and the state.
In 2019, the Connecticut Commitment was also announced with optimism. The Commitment, inaugurated alongside former UConn president Thomas Katsouleas, promised in-state students with annual household incomes below $50,000 the opportunity to attend tuition-free. Just over a year later, Katsouleas and the board of trustees announced that the program would be paused due to a lack of funding exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Commitment is still defunct (despite a donation page for the program still posted on the UConn Foundation’s website), and two successive administrations have failed to aggressively pursue alternative funding sources to support low-income students’ tuition-free attendance.
The Connecticut Commitment should serve as a lesson to students that university leaders can exploit ambitious plans and statements to signify their benevolent intent, then wash their hands of wrongdoing when funding comes up short. With UConn and the state of Connecticut losing a critical bid for the development of a regional hydrogen hub — something President Radenka Maric considers a “key part of a comprehensive portfolio of solutions” for addressing the climate crisis — we are already seeing the possibility that funding challenges will severely undercut UConn’s ability to drastically reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. This, in addition to the uncertain status of a sustainability action plan for the university, should caution climate activists at UConn not to be caught off guard if the board’s statement does not unfold in reality.
The Editorial Board is by no means opposed to the board’s statement — quite the contrary, it is important and necessary for the administration, board of trustees and student body to be on the same page about decarbonization. Moreover, we appreciate the candor of board Chairman Dan Toscano, who said at the meeting, “It’s just a statement. We’ve not accomplished anything.” Ultimately, this is a testimonial in favor of maximum transparency and cooperation between students, administrators and university staff in aggressively lobbying the state for resources and employing them efficiently. History tells us that the plans most likely to be abandoned are those with the least accountability.