Brandeis Climate Justice Urges Board of Trustees to vote on divestment

April 27, 2018

Members of Brandeis Climate Justice (BCJ) read a public statement outside the Faculty Club during a Board of Trustees meeting on Tuesday, demanding action on divestment from fossil fuels. President Ron Liebowitz and board member George D. Krupp exited the meeting to speak with the students and announced there could be a vote on divestment within the next 60 days.

BCJ’s push for fossil fuel divestment, which is the removal of university endowment funds from companies that support fossil fuels, has been a six-year-long campaign. BCJ last met with the board on Jan. 31, 2018 to present arguments in favor of divestment.

After students surrounded the faculty club to chant their public statement, Liebowitz and Krupp went outside to respond to them. Krupp informed students that the board had received a memo detailing pros and cons of the issue and precedent set by other universities. He announced he would be presenting on divestment to the board the next day, Thursday, April 26.

While Krupp said he didn’t expect a vote to be held Thursday, he told students to expect a vote within 60 days. More than once, Krupp called divestment a “very complicated issue” that required time. “If you just give us a little bit more time, we’ll come up with something that’s satisfactory to not only Brandeis but also to the student body,” Krupp said.

Liebowitz added that the difference between this year’s movement on divestment from previous years is that the full board has been present to listen to student concerns. He said all the trustees were present for and impressed with BCJ’s presentation in January and would again be there for Krupp’s presentation the next day.

Cassie Cain ’18, who has been involved in BCJ since her first year at Brandeis, expressed frustration with the board’s lack of action but said she is hopeful for an upcoming vote. She noted that Liebowitz has been more responsive to divestment than President Frederick Lawrence, who departed in 2015. At the same time, Cain does not necessarily expect a majority vote supporting divestment because the investment committee may be reluctant. Cain said even if the Board votes against divestment, it will give students “even more reason to escalate” their action.

Before Liebowitz spoke to the crowd, BCJ coordinator Jordan Mudd ’20 spoke about how Brandeis was built on Wampanoag land. Mudd found this important to acknowledge because climate change disproportionately affects indigenous as well as black and brown people.

Ben Percival ‘18, who is from Samoa, spoke next about how climate change and rising sea levels threaten islands in the Pacific. Cain followed, emphasizing that progress on divestment can only be achieved if students push for it. Cain recalled that exactly three years ago on April 24, 2015, then-President Lawrence announced the release of a 178-page report from the Exploratory Committee on Fossil Fuel Divestment, which he established in 2013. Lawrence asked the board, specifically the Investment Committee, to “evaluate strategies proposed by the report for consideration by the full Board,” in a campus-wide email.

Students marched from the Great Lawn to the Faculty Club with posters and noise-making instruments in hand. Student musicians were also present to support the beat of rhythmic chants such as “Hey Brandeis, step off it! There’s poison in your profit!”

Once students surrounded the Faculty Club windows, Renata Leighton ’21 led the group in shouting a public statement, which in part read, “Board of Trustees, three years ago you formed an Exploratory Committee on Fossil Fuel Divestment. Students and faculty wrote a report. They proposed strategies for divestment. It was over 170 pages long. In response to this report, on April 24, 2015, exactly three years ago today, President Lawrence asked the full board to consider divestment. This decision was supposed to take place Fall 2015. Instead, you ignored us.”

It continued, “We thank you for hearing us speak in January. We thank you for forming this new committee. It is a step in the right direction. But we need action now. We need to know you are listening. Do not ignore this report again. Otherwise history will repeat itself. It is your turn Brandeis! We need a vote now.”

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