Twelve protesters interrupted the University System Board of Regents meeting at the Georgia Center Wednesday morning to protest the use of the on-campus coal boiler and a policy that bans illegal immigrants from Georgia’s top colleges.
Five supporters of the University’s Beyond Coal campaign joined with four banned immigrant students because both parties felt ignored by the University’s higher administration and the Board of Regents, protester and senior University student Ian Karra said.
“We kind of teamed up seeing the common theme of not having our voices heard,” Karra told The Red & Black. “I think [the protest] sent a message to [University] President [Michael] Adams that student voices aren’t being heard. That’s where this coalition of the two organizations came from.”
The ban on illegal immigrants attending the University, Georgia Tech, Georgia State, Georgia Health Sciences University and Georgia College & State University was implemented in 2010.
“[The banned students] have been organizing around the Board of Regents trying to get them to lift that ban,” Karra said.
Besides protesting the ban, supporters of Beyond Coal held signs and Karra addressed the board and Adams to discuss the need for the University to commit to a deadline for shutting down the coal-fired boiler on South Campus.
The campaign chose to protest the meeting because Adams and members of the presidential search committee would be present, Karra said.
“Twenty schools have already won this campaign and have moved beyond coal,” he said. “So, we’ve been pressuring administration to set a date to commit to retiring the boiler and replacing it with an alternative.”
Karra said while the campaign has collected “around 5,000 petitions, had 150 faculty endorse [it] and got the support of around 200 community members,” he has gotten little response from administration.
He said the campaign had one meeting with administration but that it “didn’t really go anywhere.”
“You’d think with a quarter of the undergraduate population behind us, they would address this problem,” Karra said. “However, based on [a Red & Black] article about the coal plant, they’ve been really diffident, really wishy-washy about what they’re going to replace it with.”
Karra and the rest of the campaigners are concerned because the board “hasn’t even done a comprehensive feasibility study” to find what would replace the boiler.
Karra felt interrupting the meeting was the only way to have Adams, the board and other administration listen to these causes, he said.
“It was kind of a last resort type deal,” he said. “Our administration has become really disconnected from the student population. There’s just a lack of accountability and communication between our students and our administrators. And that carries over to the Board of Regents.”
But Board of Regents spokesman John Millsaps said the students’ message may not have been received clearly by the board or administration.
Millsaps missed the protest but told The Red & Black that “people said it wasn’t very clear” what the group had been protesting.
“They were guessing the environment. Somebody was talking about immigration,” he said. “So it was not very coherent, evidently.”
Millsaps also said students have protested Board of Regents meetings before.
“It’s nothing unprecedented or unusual,” he said.
The board had met to review a list of items including construction to Oglethorpe House, the Terry College of Business and the Health Sciences Campus at the meeting.
Despite the protest, the board moved to ratify all proposed items without protest, Millsaps said.
An earlier version of this story said there were eight Beyond Coal supporters. There are actually five. Correction appended Oct. 10, 2012 at 10:05 p.m.