Administration responds to Climate Justice banner

May 21, 2019

In anticipation of Admitted Students Day on April 14th, members of Brandeis Climate Justice (BCJ) hung a banner on the bridge in front of Gosman Athletics Center to “remind incoming students that they have a voice on this campus, as well as remind the administration that they have a responsibility to help our generation achieve a livable future” Climate Justice member Claudia Davis ’19 said.

Climate Justice members went to Squire Bridge early on April 14th to hang two banners that read “Fo$$il Fuel$ or Our Future” alongside the hashtags “#divest” and “#reinvest.” The banners remained hanging on the southwest side of the bridge for a number of days, though members had to return to adjust the banners.

The banners are a part of BCJ’s campaign to pressure the Board of Trustees to divest entirely from fossil fuels. Last November, the Board agreed to cease investments in coal along with other provisions, but BCJ is committed to a total divestment from the fossil fuel industry, according to their Facebook page.

Members of BCJ tabled and held a call/email-in to Liebowitz and the Board of Trustees restating the call for divestment on April 14th. Callers were asked to lay out a set of demands which included “divest from all direct fossil fuel holdings immediately” and “divest from all indirect fossil fuel holdings within 3 years.” The administration was also asked never to invest in fossil fuels again and to form a “community resource committee” in order to “investigate, pursue and achieve investment in socially responsible funds by 2020,” according to a Facebook post promoting the event.

William O’Reilly, the president’s Chief of Staff, speaking on behalf of Liebowitz and Board Chair Meyer Koplow, responded to callers in an email that called the issue of climate change “profound and complex.” In the email, O’Reilly wrote about the efforts made by trustees last November and reminded callers that the board weighted “both the legitimate climate-related concerns of many members of the Brandeis community and the Trustees’ fiduciary responsibility to protect the health of the endowment, which plays a major role in funding professorships and student financial aid.”  

The email asserts that “[the board’s] current policies make the most sense for Brandeis at the present time.”

In a second statement from Davis, BCJ said they were “disappointed in the lukewarm position of the President and the Board on the urgency of climate change and Brandeis’ responsibility as an institution to effectively address it.”

“We fully understand the complexity and size of such an undertaking… and the redirection from divestment to smaller scale actions such as emission reductions which we find to be less than the bare minimum if we take the October IPCC report seriously, which our generation does,” explained Davis.

O’Reilly repeated in the email to BCJ call-ins that the administration believes that “achieving additional reductions in our carbon footprint will require changes in our collective and personal behaviors, some of which may be difficult to embrace.” Members of BCJ stress that larger monetary divestments are the only way to meaningfully affect change on a global scale.

Part of the banner’s purpose was to “draw attention to the hypocrisy of an elite research institution promising its incoming class a bright and shining future while simultaneously investing in that future’s destruction,” explained Davis.

Davis concluded her response to the O’Reilly email by stating, “we also feel that this response demonstrates that the Board and the Administration have been agitated by student power and we think now is the time to continue to apply pressure to see our demands realized”.

Brandeis Climate Justice intends to continue planning future actions and research alternative investment opportunities to propose to the Board of Trustees over the summer break.

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