Gertler Defends Education, Students Shake Their Fists


By: Fraser Allan Best


(Photo: Toronto350)

For three years, UofT350 has lobbied the University of Toronto to divest its fossil fuel holdings. On March 30th, President Meric Gertler issued a response titled “Beyond Divestment” explaining why the holdings would be retained. The note was a careful but unequivocal “no”.

At one point in time, Gertler’s defence of the university against what amounts to economic sanctions would have been applauded. But in a climate in which the term “liberal” has more to do with aimless activism than principle, his stance draws only accusations of malintent.

The continued pressure levied at Gertler to divest, betrays both the liberal banner that students claim to represent, and the Canadian values that we are all compelled to protect.

The official logic behind UofT350 is easy enough to follow. They aim to pressure the university to drop its investments in Canada’s oil sands, taking a bite out of the industry, and curbing climate change.

While this seems to overestimate the impact that divestment can have on overall emissions, moderates will concede that the movement is more symbolic. For students in this camp, it’s about ensuring that their tuition isn’t indirectly supporting Canadian oil.

But UofT350’s objection is constructed, and their solution is destructive.

Even granting that climate change is as imminently dangerous as the left claims, there are countless other ways that supporters of UofT350 indirectly support the oil industry. But did members decide to boycott Starbucks, Amazon, or any other business that relies on fossil fuels? No, they pushed for sanctions on universities.

These are the same liberals who otherwise defend universities as paragons of social virtue. From the other side of their mouth they will emphasize the importance of research, and esteem their quality professors, all the while stressing the importance of keeping tuition affordable to all.

But the demands of UofT350 threaten all of this.

In demanding that the university take a financial hit, and drop its profitable holdings in Canadian oil, divestment would strike at the university’s budget. While UofT350 recommends reinvesting in conventional financial instruments, Gertler — who has access to the detailed portfolio — is clear that these is would not offer the same returns. With its revenue diminished, the university would unavoidably have to either roll back funding to faculties, or raise tuition.

Where are the liberals that fight for education, now?

Their apparent flip-flop on this topic seems to stem from a cognitive dissonance that has existed in leftist thought since climate change first appeared on the agenda. That’s the contradiction between what liberals believe, and how they live.

Simply by virtue of living in a northern country, Canadians have no choice but to heat their homes with gas at least four months out of the year. No Canadian — no matter how environmentally progressive — can live without fossil fuel.

But instead of coming to embrace the realities of a Canadian lifestyle, liberals have shirked responsibility to the nearest ivory tower. With the issue remapped, they are virtuous climate defenders, while the actions of the university are destroying the world.

In the coming weeks — while earning high-quality, comparatively affordable degrees — the members of UofT350 will go on to write scathing indictments of Gertler’s decision, from their heated residence rooms.

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