Sixteen Australian philanthropists who collectively donate millions to environmental and sustainability projects each year have blacklisted the University of Newcastle over its appointment of Mark Vaile as the institution's new chancellor.
In an advertisement published in Friday's Newcastle Herald, the group, which includes former Wallabies Captain David Pocock and businessman, investor and philanthropist Alan Schwartz, state they will not support the university's projects as a result of the appointment of Mr Vaile, who is chairman of Whitehaven Coal.
"As significant donors we write this letter to make clear to the university that we, and many like-minded others, will not support a university who would choose as their leader someone who is determined to build new coal mines when most of the world is determined to reduce fossil fuel use," the letter says.
Mr Vaile, who served as Leader of the Nationals and Deputy Prime Minister from 2005 to 2007, is due to take over as chancellor on July 1.
Meanwhile, the university council has lost a second member in as many weeks following the resignation of Dr Eileen Doyle.
Dr Doyle said she was unable to comment on her departure, however, incumbent chancellor Paul Jeans told the Herald that she had previously advised of her intention to resign.
"Dr Doyle advised me that she was stepping down due to increased responsibilities in her ASX and government board roles and additional activities with her business associates. She has contributed a great deal to this university, and we wish her the very best in her endeavours," he said.
Her departure follows the resignation of Professor Jennifer Martin who resigned from the university council in protest at the appointment of Mark Vaile as chancellor.
Many students, academics and members of the wider community have reached out to Professor Martin to express their support following her resignation.
Students who met on Wednesday night agreed to commence a series of rolling protests commencing on Friday.
"There was not one student at the meeting who was supportive of the appointment," University of Newcastle Students Association president Luka Harrison said.
"It was pretty clear, students are unhappy for a number of reasons including Mark Vaile's record of climate scepticism, his position as chairman of Whitehaven Coal and the government that he was a member of was continually attacking higher education," he said.
Several of the philanthropists who signed the open letter in the advertisement said they were deeply concerned about the implications that Mr Vaile's appointment could have on the direction of the university and the wider Hunter community.
" This (Newcastle chancellor appointment) is a very serious issue because the university is an integral part of the Hunter community and its economy," Sue McKinnon said.
"Some people might say it's not a big issue because the position of chancellor is symbolic but that's the whole point- it is deeply symbolic who you appoint as chancellor."
The McKinnon Family Foundation has previously funded university research projects and currently support projects to assist communities undergoing transition away from coal.
The Ross Knowles Foundation spends about $300,000 a year supporting environmental improvement projects.
"My charitable foundation is set up to protect the environment, including addressing climate change. It is very important that we use our resources to the best advantage to achieve that goal," Mr Knowles, who is also a University of Newcastle alumnus, said.
"The appointment of the new chancellor raises questions about the direction of the university in the future."
The university declined to comment about the letter.
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Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi is among those who have written to the university to express concern about Mr Vaile's appointment.
"As a former university professor, I am strongly of the view that university leaders should reflect their community and its future. By appointing the chair of a coal company as chancellor, Newcastle is doing the exact opposite," Dr Faruqi wrote in her letter to Vice Chancellor Alex Zelinsky.
"Universities have a huge role to play in tackling the climate crisis, developing new technologies and ensuring a just transition for workers and communities to a post-carbon economy.
"Newcastle has a proud history of excellent work in this regard, with solar power research a notable example."
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