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CPUC discusses fossil fuel dissociation, minor program pilot, COVID-19 policy

<h6>Aidan Iacobucci / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Aidan Iacobucci / The Daily Princetonian

Editors Note: A previous version of this article mentioned the creation of mixed concentration programs as a part of the minors program pilots. In fact, a mixed concentrations program was only mentioned as an idea during the meeting and the University does not have concrete plans to implement such a plan at this time. 

Additionally, quotes from Hilary Parker and Anu Ramaswami previously appeared incorrectly due to transcription errors; they have since been corrected and given more context. A previous version of this article also misstated which committee Anu Ramaswami presented on behalf of. The ‘Prince’ regrets these errors.

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Statements from Dr. Calvin Chin and Dr. Melissa Markspresentations have been added to this article to reflect the time allotted to them during the meeting.

At the Council of the Princeton University Community (CPUC) meeting, on Monday, March 21, administrators discussed the University’s decision to disassociate from fossil fuels, plans for a minors program, and upcoming changes to the University’s COVID-19 protocol. 

President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 introduced the speakers and facilitated questions from the faculty and student body. 

Dissociation from Fossil Fuels

Vice President and Secretary of the University Hilary Parker and Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Anu Ramaswami spoke on behalf of the Administrative Committee and the Faculty Panel on the University's dissociation from fossil fuels, respectively. 

The dissociation process began in May 2021, when, following a recommendation from the CPUC Resources Committee, the Board of Trustees authorized the creation of an administrative process to guide dissociation from two categories of fossil fuel companies.

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“We are dissociating from those that participate in climate disinformation campaigns, or otherwise spread climate disinformation, as well as those that are in the thermal coal or tar sands segment of the fossil fuel industry, unless they can meet a rigorous standard for their greenhouse gas emissions,” Parker said at the meeting.

With this transition, Princeton is joining other Ivy League institutions in establishing a plan to divest from fossil fuels, although the University maintains that they are going beyond just divesting. 

Parker said that the University will be going beyond the economic stakes in investing by ceasing other forms of partnership and relationships.

“So as we are thinking about a process that we would need to put in place, we absolutely would need to be thinking about investments and PRINCO,” Parker said. 

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Parker added that the University needs to “be thinking very broadly in our process” of disassociation and “cease other forms of partnerships” in addition to divestment if a certain company’s behavior is deemed “sufficiently egregious.”

The University’s total fossil fuel investments, both direct and indirect, amount to about 1.7 billion dollars or 4.5 percent of the endowment, according to their presentation. 13 million dollars, or 0.3 percent of the endowment, is directly invested in fossil fuels. 

Parker claimed that the University will begin to dissociate from both direct and indirect investments in fossil fuels 

“This is because dissociation includes and goes beyond investment” she said.

Parker also pointed to Tiger Transit’s moving of its full fleet to battery operated vehicles starting in the 2022-23 academic year as an example of other sustainability work.

Ramaswami noted that the University was “[a]t the leading edge of what universities are doing and even what investment companies are doing” and expounded on the two active charges that the administrative committee on dissociation is giving the Board of Trustees.

Various committee give the Board of Trustees tasks and goals, known as charges, in order to achieve collective University visions.

“The first charge was to develop metrics and standards for dissociation from companies that engage in climate disinformation,“ Ramaswami said. “The second one is those that materially participate in the thermal coal and tar sands segments of the fossil fuel industry.”

One student, Hannah Reynolds ’22, pointed to the political disruption that the world has faced in recent weeks.

Reynolds is a coordinator of Divest Princeton and an opinion columnist for The Daily Princetonian.

“How have the current political issues in Ukraine, where we're seeing human rights violations that are centered around oil and gas and conflicts there, been considered in our divestment and our necessity to be  investing in the service of humanity?” Reynolds asked at the meeting.

Parker directed the question to Eisgruber who said, “I think what I would do just once again, is to remind folks that the process that we have at the University of harboring questions around dissociation and divestment, that its a process that focuses on the long term values of the University and decisions reached designed to be long term kinds of judgments.” 

“The application of those judgments over time may vary as conditions in the world, particularly with regard to the production and use of fossil fuels, change,” he added.

“Our goal remains to propose for Board approval a set of actionable criteria for dissociation and a process for implementing them, now and into the future, by the end of this academic year,” the statement during Parker’s presentation read.

More information on the University’s dissociation can be found on the University website.  

Prospective Minors Program

Dean of the College Jill Dolan and Associate Dean of the College Rebekah Peeples presented on Princeton’s plan to create a minors program.

“We think that a minors program will enhance the various pathways through the undergraduate curriculum,” Dolan said. “Certificate programs, as many of you know, are multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary. Many students however, would like to minor in a field that exists as a single discipline.”

In addition, this change will update the “idiosyncratic nomenclature” of Princeton degrees, according to Dolan.

“So part of this project is also to perhaps make our undergraduate curriculum a bit more legible outside of the University, in addition to opening up options within it,” she said. 

The minor program will allow Princeton departments to propose their own minors in the future. 

“There is no double majoring in Princeton because of the rigors of our independent work which would be difficult and perhaps even burdensome for students,” Dolan said. “[The Academics Committee] came up with something they called mixed concentrations in the hope that perhaps departments could get together to divvy up their credits in a way that would let students mix their concentrations.”

Dolan further explained that the idea of ‘mixed concentrations’ was not pursued any further than ideation during this process.

This project is slated to be piloted over the next couple years, starting in the fall of 2023 by the Classes of 2025, 26 and 27.

COVID-19 Updates and University Protocol

Assistant Vice President of Environmental Health and Safety Robin Izzo and Assistant Director for Emergency Preparedness Derek Ziegler expounded on the University’s ongoing shift in approach to COVID-19 protocols.

“We’re focusing a lot more on mitigation levels for campus rather than risk status,” Ziegler said. “So within the mitigation levels, we're looking at things like severity of illness on campus, whether there's an impact on the surrounding healthcare systems, and overall continuity of operations and ability for students to take classes, as well as maintain our central functions.”

In addition, he mentioned that “as of early last week students are not required to wear masks in most University settings” and that students may bring overnight guests as long as they are up-to-date on the CDC’s vaccination protocol.

Izzo discussed the importance of respecting people that choose to wear masks, in view of the University’s change in protocol. 

“People are wearing masks for different reasons,” she said. “Maybe they are [at] higher risk themselves. Maybe they are protecting someone else who is. Maybe they’ve got a big trip planned where they want to take that extra step to protect them. If someone is wearing a mask, respect them.”

Nate Howard ’25 called into question the University’s effectiveness in dealing with positive COVID-19 cases, despite the change in procedure. 

“I had COVID during the big spike, and was not called in for contact tracing,” Howard said. “I still got COVID because we are one community. My question is, going forward as we loosen restrictions, how are students going to be safe?” 

Izzo pushed back, stating that “after a decent amount of time, contact tracing is not helpful.” 

“I think people have to look at their individual situations and their end and determine how often they should be testing and when they should be wearing a mask,” she said. “In addition, students have individual responsibility to identify close contacts, not just University Health Services.”

Mental Health remarks from CPS and UHS

Medical Director of University Health Services (UHS) Dr. Melissa Marks ’86 spoke on the patient-centric approach that UHS takes to mental health.

The “triple aim” approach that she described encompasses a multifaceted approach to healthcare and aligns with the mission of the UHS in providing “high quality and multispectral care to patients in an environment with respect.”

“We look at patient and population care outcomes, which are measurable outcomes, patient population care experience, and the cost of care which is also called in some arenas of valuable care,” she stated.

Director of Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) Dr. Calvin R. Chin also spoke on the implications of COVID-19 and how CPS mitigated such issues. He started by discerning that trauma can manifest in ways that are not universally understood.

“When we think about trauma, we define that as anything that can happen that makes you fear for your safety [or] that makes you fear for your life. I don't think it's a big leap to sort of see how the pandemic has made us all have to sort of reckon with that,” Chin said.

He then pointed to the decline in mental health for adults during the duration of the pandemic.

“The percentage of people in the US that have reported symptoms of anxiety or a depressive disorder during this period has ranged between 30 and 40 percent. Just for comparison in 2019, the average percentage of people in the US reporting anxiety or depressive symptoms was 10.8 percent,” Chin said.

“[We] saw an increase in CPS appointments and wellness checks across campus [since April 2020], compelling CPS to educate departments to be more proactive and not just [recognize] students who may already be in distress, but to sort of brainstorm with different departments on how to sort of alter policies,” Chin noted.

“One of the things that I always say is that you don't have to have to sacrifice academic rigor, to be humane and to be kind,” he said.

The meeting ran from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the Frist Multipurpose Room.

The next CPUC meeting, the final one of the spring semester, will be held on May 2.

Aidan Iacobucci is a staff news writer for the ‘Prince.’ He can be reached at iacobucci@princeton.edu or @aidaniaco on Instagram.

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