By Sharon Pruitt, Managing Editor and News Editor for The Current.
University of Missouri-St. Louis students and community members gathered on October 26 to protest UMSL’s acceptance of a $750,000 donation from Peabody Energy.
The group met in the Millennium Student Center and marched across campus to Chancellor Thomas George’s office in Woods Hall. They sought an agreement from the university to return the donation and break all ties with Peabody Energy, formerly Peabody Coal, and the coal industry.
The group is scheduled to meet and further discuss the issue with Chancellor George on Tuesday, November 13.
The demonstration was the closing act of the “Post-Peabody St. Louis” Week of Action, a collaborative effort of local activists led by Climate Action STL to rid St. Louis of connections to the coal industry.Among those protesting were UMSL students, as well as students from other local universities and members of such community organizations as Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment (MORE) and the Sierra Club.
The University announced the $750,000 donation in September of this year as part of the Gateway to Greatness campaign. The funds will be used to renovate two of UMSL‘s science labs, one of which is in Benton Hall while the other is in Stadler Hall. Peabody Energy has also been granted naming rights of the labs, which will be called the Peabody Environmental Engineering Laboratory and the Peabody Physics Laboratory.
“As a student at UMSL, I know that there’s no doubt that we need an upgrade in facilities. However, I’m also a father with children in the St. Louis public schools. This money is an attempt to cover up not only the environmental harm that Peabody does but also the fact that the St. Louis Public Schools have lost $2 million from Peabody’s tax breaks,” said Dave Scott, senior, secondary education, in a press release. Scott, an UMSL student in the School of Education, spearheaded the demonstration. Scott began protesting the decision on his own as early as September by writing an open letter to Chancellor George. The letter urged the university to return the donation due to what Scott described as negative environmental effects of mining and Peabody’s practices as a coal company.
The letter appeared in the October 1 issue of the Current, the student newspaper at UMSL, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch website, stltoday.com, posted a version of that letter as a Letter to the Editor on the same day.
“They call it a construction site but it’s a destruction site. These mountains aren’t going to grow back,” Scott later said of the surface mining practices of Patriot Coal, a coal-mining company that was spun off by Peabody Energy in 2007. Scott, who grew up in a West Virginia town with a heavy mining presence, would like to see the university divest itself from coal completely.
Dr. Ronald Yasbin, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at UMSL, responded with a letter of his own that was posted on the Post-Dispatch website on October 4, stating that the gift will help UMSL. According to Yasbin, the work that will be done in the Environmental Engineering Lab will be centered around the Missouri and the Mississippi River, monitoring the rivers and identifying and solving any problems that may endanger their ecosystems.
“The research [that will be conducted in the lab] will not be dictated by politics. Whatever the results are, the results are. [If] you think about it, that’s pretty open-minded; they’re [Peabody] not worried about what we may find,“ Yasbin said during a recent interview with the Current. Yasbin reiterated that there ate no strings attached to the donation.
“The [Environmental Engineering] lab is going to concentrate on our two rivers. These two rivers are the lifeblood of this part of Missouri, and we have to make sure that these rivers are healthy. It’s going to be a major advantage for us,” he said.
Peabody’s donation was part of the Gateway to Greatness Campaign, the seven-year fund-raising initiative that garnered more than $154 million in private funding before ending in June.
“The Peabody Energy gift is being used to renovate student science labs and support environmental instruction and research. The lab renovations are badly needed and will benefit nearly all UMSL students,” said Bob Samples, Associate Vice Chancellor of Communications. Samples described the protesters as civil and orderly.
The Current ©