BCJ and FACT present on divestment to Board of Trustees

February 2, 2018

Students from Brandeis Climate Justice (BCJ) and faculty from Faculty Against the Climate Threat (FACT) met with the full Board of Trustees on Jan. 31 to discuss divestment from fossil fuels. The two climate organizations gave a 55 minute presentation followed by a question and answer session. The Board has not made a decisions on this matter, according to members of BCJ and FACT.

The meeting took place in the faculty lounge with the Board of Trustees, Prof. Daniel Bergstresser (BUS, FIN), a faculty representative to the Board, Prof. Paul Miller (BIO, NBIO), Sabine von Mering (GER), Philip Wight, a graduate student, Cacildia Cain ’18 and Jordan Mudd ’20. President Ron Liebowitz and Provost Lisa Lynch were also in attendance.

BCJ also held a Facebook photo campaign to draw attention to divestment and the meeting with the board.

Mering, Cain and Mudd said they are not expecting a quick decision on divestment from the board, though Mudd feels that the Board understands climate change is a time sensitive issue. During a Jan. 26 Faculty Meeting, Liebowitz’s remarks (read aloud by Lynch) echoed the expectation that the Board would not decide right away, as divestment is a complex matter.

Divestment is the practice of removing a portion of the endowment invested in fossil fuels or companies that promote the fossil fuel industry. BCJ and FACT had engaged in a series of actions in the past year to push for divestment, including a march down the Rabb steps and a faculty resolution encouraging the Board to act on divestment.

Von Mering began the meeting by describing the history of divestment at Brandeis, noting events such as the faculty resolution, and tried to put divestment in context for the board. A theme the presenters focused on was that divestment is inconsistent with the Brandeis Responsible Investor General Guideline which the Board of Trustees accepted in 1973.

The Responsible Investor General Guideline outlines how capital funds should be used to support the university. The guideline states that the university has an “ethical responsibility” to act as a responsible investor; however, it also recognizes the difficulty in maintaining this responsibility practically.

The General Guideline also provides some recommended guidelines for investments that are found to be “directly and substantially involved in activities causing social injury,” and recommends action to address that injury. It further states that, “Where a corporation’s conduct is found to be clearly and gravely offensive to the university community’s sense of social justice…consideration should be given to selling that corporation’s securities.”

The Guideline states that investing should be “devoted mainly to its primary missions and goals and not diverted to other causes such as official promotion of particular political or social views.” The guideline continues to explain that a university’s power to influence corporations, “while not negligible, is nevertheless quite limited.”

During an interview with The Hoot, Mudd addressed the efficacy of divestment. Mudd explained that the BCJ’s goal was not to hurt the companies financially. “The point is not to bankrupt these industries,” Mudd said. “We’re trying to bankrupt them economically and socially. We’re trying to create that culture which exposes them and creates that attention….Morally, politically, socially we [will] have an impact.”

Bergstresser focussed on the financial cost of divestment, according to Cain. Bergstresser is a faculty representative to the board and presented on behalf of BCJ and FACT. Cain characterized Bergstresser’s remarks on divestment from direct investments in the fossil fuel industry as having a negligible effect on the endowment. Cain continued that divesting from third party managers who invest a part of the endowment in packages could have an effect. Wight focused on the history of divestment in his portion of the speech, according to Cain.

The main points the BCJ and FACT members focused on in their joint presentation were the fossil fuel industry’s responsibility for climate change and the inherent unjustness in its larger effect on underdeveloped nations, according to Mudd and von Mering. Von Mering was hopeful about the meeting, calling it “very encouraging.”

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