Introduced by the Pro-VC for research and innovation, Prof. Richard Jones, and moderated by Prof. Marie Kinsey, joint head of the Department of Journalism, the opposing sides of the debate were genuine and good natured. The pro-divestment camp featured Prof. Fionn Stevenson, head of the School of Architecture, and Liam Hardy, PhD student in Physics and Astronomy and co-founder of the divestment campaign at Sheffield University. The anti-divestment camp featured Prof. Peter Styring, an expert in carbon utilisation, and Ali Aiad, third year chemical engineering student, who came dressed as a Texan oil baron apparently for comic relief.
The pro-divestment arguments seemed better-prepared than their opponents, and the proponents were clearly far more passionate about the issue. Whereas Liam could claim to have personally combed through the University’s investments portfolio and expressed confidence in his calculations that the total £40m of investments could fund a wind-farm large enough to power the University and reap dividends in a matter of years, his counterparts appeared limited by lacking imagination, antiquated viewpoints, and distractions using incorrect presumptions (e.g., sub-Saharan Africa and other remote rural communities don’t want more diesel generators, they want off-the-grid, renewable solutions!).
At the end, the audience was asked to participate in a vote on the question of divestment. The announcement that 91% of attendees had in favour of divestment brought a tremendous roar of approval from the audience, with both anti-divestment panellists honourably admitting defeat. 7% voted against divestment and only 2% were left unconvinced by either side. Prof. Richard Jones finished the event with an explanation of what happens next, including where the final decisions will be made. We look forward to hearing what the University Council propose to do next.
An audio recording of the debate can be accessed here.