There’s a fascinating conversation developing around fossil fuel divestment on college campuses. You can hear all about it in this Elizabeth Shogren story - but here’s the basics:
Major universities tend to have a lot of money (often in the form of an endowment), and some of this money is invested in fossil fuel companies. Student activists say it is immoral to profit off companies that help cause climate change. They’re trying to get their universities to withdraw those investments.
At Harvard, 72% percent of voting undergraduates, 67% of voting law students, and nearly 100 professors support divestment. And while Harvard’s president, Drew Faust, has strongly supported addressing climate change and carbon emissions on campus, she says Harvard won’t divest:
"We should … be very wary of steps intended to instrumentalize our endowment in ways that would appear to position the University as a political actor rather than an academic institution. Conceiving of the endowment not as an economic resource, but as a tool to inject the University into the political process or as a lever to exert economic pressure for social purposes, can entail serious risks to the independence of the academic enterprise. The endowment is a resource, not an instrument to impel social or political change."
Faust says Harvard will have a greater impact if it doesn’t ostracize fossil fuel companies, but instead works with them to change.
In response, Harvard students have started blockading her office. This morning, one of them (Brett Roche, seen entering a police car in this picture tweeted by @JustAndStable) was arrested. According to university spokesperson Kevin Galvin:
Roche “ignored repeated warnings from the Harvard Police and physically barred a member of the Harvard community from entering the building.”
Tomorrow, the students will deliver a petition supporting divestment to the University.
It’s a really interesting conflict. Both the students and the administration believe climate change is a major, man-made problem. But they are divided over the answers to some interesting questions.
What is an academic institution’s role in promoting social change? Can concerned shareholders change fossil fuel companies from within? Does divestment work?