By Michael Eilers

Arizona Daily Wildcat

In the heart of Quebec near the southernmost tip of the Hudson Bay, an ecological disaster of astounding proportions is taking place. The James Bay Project, a series of hydroelectric dams, has directly affected hundreds of thousands of square kilometers of land (an area the size of New England), causing destruction on par with the Chernobyl disaster.

How does this relate to the students of a landlocked university, thousands of miles from James Bay? This is about how our universities spend money and how we, as students, have both the right and the imperative to control how our tuition is spent.

Students of Tufts University in Massachussetts were horrified when they discovered last year that their university had over $1.5 million invested in Hydro-Quebec bonds. As the builders of the James Bay Project, Hydro-Quebec has been responsible for the destruction of huge areas of forest and wildlands, the displacement of indigenous Cree and Inuit peoples, the deaths of tens of thousands of wild caribou they even managed to reverse the flow direction of several rivers.

What was once a pristine area, sustaining the Cree and Inuit peoples for nearly 5,000 years, is now a poisoned swamp. Vegetation and soil drowned by the newly created lakes release naturally occurring mercury as the organic matter decays, introducing toxic methyl mercury into the water, poisoning both the fish and the Cree and Inuit who eat them. Hydro-Quebec is responsible for environmental and cultural destruction on a monumental scale.

Students at Tufts decided that investment in Hydro-Quebec violated the fundamental moral principles of their institution. The Tufts Environmental Consciousness Outreach (ECO) coalition worked to convince the university to divest (sell off) its Hydro-Quebec bonds. Within a few months, they had gotten the attention of both the student senate and the Board of Trustees: the senate passed a resolution calling for the divestment of the H-Q bonds and the development of future investment guidelines. The trustees developed a new Social Policy for Investments, which resulted in the complete divestment of the Hydro-Quebec bonds. Responding to similar pressures from its students, Dartmouth University also sold its Hydro-Quebec bonds, making both a tidy profit and a cleaner investment.

Money is a big issue on this campus. The fates of entire departments, the safety of the Student Union, even the health of the tenants of Christopher City will be dictated by the flow of funds on this campus. While the U of A shows the Journalism and Near Eastern Studies departments its empty pockets, it earmarks $15 million for the Mount Graham telescope project, with millions more to follow in the future. While the school's computer systems rot and the library cancels subscriptions, Research Vice President Michael Cusanovich and his department, largely responsible for funding the telescope project, settled in February a lawsuit involving charges of racketeering yes, racketeering and paid over $2.2 million. In the same month the university threw away another $1.3 million for failing to fulfill its end of a contract with a construction firm hired to build on Mount Graham.

The telescope project, like the James Bay Project, is an ethical as well as monetary issue Mount Graham is San Carlos Apache holy land and is home to many federally listed endangered species. Development of any kind on this mountain violates the beliefs of Native peoples and threatens the survival of endangered animals and plants. Money wasters like Cusanovich and his department need to be reined in or cut off they throw tens of millions of dollars at ecologically and morally unsound projects that even after completion will benefit only a few select individuals.

When was the last time an object spotted through a telescope changed your life or raised your standard of living and education? A university astronomer discovered a new kind of asteroid small comfort to the Journalism Department, condemned to death for not producing "useful" graduates or research. Over $5.7 million has been spent on those 'scopes, and there are many departments with greater need (and worth) that could have benefited from that money.

When a University starts regulating its departments by the amount of money they bring in, and uses university funds to violate environmental laws and cultural beliefs, then it is time to act. The students of Tufts and Dartmouth have shown us the way, proving that it is possible to shape the fiscal policies of our universities. Demand that university funds be spent wisely and well.

Want to get involved? Attend a student senate or Board of Regents meeting and make your voice heard. For more information on the James Bay Project, contact Dan Deocampo at (617) 629-0951 or e-mail ddeocamp@pearl.tufts.edu. For information on the Mount Graham issue, come to the Cactus Lounge (in the Student Union) Room 228 Mondays at 5 p.m. or e-mail eilersm@gas.uug.arizona.edu.

Michael Eilers isa creative writing graduate student. Read Next Article