College Divestment Campaigns

From Global Energy Monitor

Here is the status of fossil fuel divestment campaigns at various U.S. colleges and universities.

Brown University

Brown Divest Coal Campaign began organizing at the University in 2012, demanding that the University divest from the country’s 15 biggest coal companies. Within the campaign’s first weeks, the group had over 1,200 signatures of support on a petition and over 60 volunteers.[1]

Divest Coal presented their argument to the Advisory Committee on Corporate Responsibility in Investment Policies (ACCRIP) in 2013. ACCRIP recommended divestiture in April 2013, writing that the companies cited in Divest Coal’s proposal committed social harm “so grave that it would be deeply unethical” for the University to continue to profit from them.[2]

In October 2013, President Christina Paxson wrote that the University’s Corporation had decided not to divest from these coal companies.[3]

Following this defeat, Divest Coal rebranded as Fossil Free Brown in 2014, with the goal of getting Brown to divest from the top 200 fossil fuel companies in the world.[4] In 2016, ACCRIP recommended the University move toward sustainable investment using several tactics including a gradual divestment.

The campaign was quiet from 2017 onwards. In February 2020, with no active campaign in place, President Christina Paxson announced that the University had made the decision “to halt investments in fossil fuel extraction companies.” This process of selling investments in fossil fuel companies had started in October 2017 and by February 2020, only about 10 percent of investments remained.[5] The University does not plan to make new investments in fossil fuel companies “unless and until they make significant progress in converting themselves into providers of sustainable energy.”[6] This decision was not labeled divestment.

Dartmouth University

The Divest Dartmouth campaign began in 2013. They started off their campaign with a petition urging the board of trustees to divest, which quickly gained steam on campus, reaching 866 signatures from students and alumni.[7]

In September 2014, the college president Phil Hanlon tasked a committee with preparing a report describing the advantages and disadvantages of divestment at Dartmouth.[8] In April 2015, 79 Dartmouth alumni wrote an open letter to Hanlon urging Dartmouth to divest and informing the president that they would be donating to the Multi-School Fossil Free Divestment Fund as opposed to Dartmouth.[9] In April 2016, a Divest Dartmouth rally garnered 110 co-sponsors, more than any previous event in the school’s history.[10]

In April 2016, the 36-page report that Hanlon requested was prepared and presented to the college, arguing that divestment was essential for reasons of ethical responsibility, financial impact, academic opportunity and symbolic importance.[11] After this, Dartmouth published its own two-page report of 4 pros and 7 cons to divestment at Dartmouth, such as “by limiting investments we restrict the ability of Dartmouth to deploy resources against research and education initiatives” and “if we stake out ideological positions on these issues, we limit our ability on both those counts.”[12]

In May 2017, 20 Divest Dartmouth students gathered outside of College President Phil Hanlon’s open office hours to demonstrate support for fossil fuel divestment. They hoped to pressure the president to bring the issue of divestment to a vote at the Borad of Trustees.[13]

In February 2018, the College’s Board of Trustees disclosed 26 holdings, which included shares from the SPDR S&P Oil & Gas Explore & Production exchange-traded fund valued at $66,615,000. Additionally, the College had investments in Exxon Mobil Corporation and Pattern Energy Group.[14]

In May 2019, the group resurfaced, and switched their focus from advocating for divestment from the 200 highest polluting companies to advocating for divestment from oil and gas companies that have not made an effort to develop clean energy or reduce their carbon output. They hoped this goal would better match Dartmouth’s standards on academics and honesty.[15]

In September 2019, the Divest Dartmouth group discovered that the College’s Office of Investment no longer directly invests in fossil fuel companies, and the only significant investment in fossil fuel companies is through two student organizations that receive money from the College’s endowment for the purposes of practicing investment. Divest Dartmouth said they would maintain pressure on the school to publicly divest.[16]

Commitment to Native American Education

Notably, Dartmouth has a unique focus on Native American education. The school has a Native American studies degree as well as a Native American program for students, with five pillars, including: Academic Support, Wellbeing, Community Engagement, and Personal and Leadership Development.[17] [18]

During the first 200 years of its existence, only 19 Native Americans graduated from the Dartmouth. In 1970, new president John G. Kemeny pledged to commit Dartmouth to offering opportunities for Native Americans in higher education. According to its website, Darmouth has since graduated 700 Native American students from Dartmouth, “more than at all the other Ivy League institutions combined.”[19]

Yet, some call into question Dartmouth’s commitment to Native American people through their lack of action on divestment.

One 2017 article in the Dartmouth Political Times writes, “Dartmouth’s investments in the fossil fuel industry run counter to our most fundamental institutional claims. First and foremost, these investments are a betrayal of the Native American communities Dartmouth claims to stand by. We advertise our commitment to Native American communities and students, yet we support the industries responsible for the exploitation of Native American lands, and most recently the atrocities at Standing Rock.”[11]

Notable Native American alumnus Louise Erdich, who gave an interview with the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine in 2015, only did so on the condition that her calls for Dartmouth to divest were included in the article.

“Why should Dartmouth divest from fossil fuels? Because when you are educating students to have a better future, you should do all possible to ensure they have a future,” she said in the article.[20]

Hampshire College

Hampshire College in Massachusetts approved a policy in 2012 of investing in environmentally responsible companies that it said would rid its portfolio of fossil fuel stocks.[21]

Harvard University

Divest Harvard is an organization at Harvard University that seeks to compel the university to divest from fossil fuel companies. The group was founded in 2012 by students at Harvard College.[22] In November 2012, a referendum on divestment passed at Harvard College with 72% support,[23] followed by a similar referendum at the Harvard Law School in May 2013, which passed with 67% support.[24][25] During this time, representatives from Divest Harvard began meeting with members of Harvard University's governing body, the Harvard Corporation,[26] but the meetings were described as unproductive.[27]

In October 2013, the Harvard Corporation formally announced that the university would not consider a policy of divestment.[28] Following this, Divest Harvard began organizing rallies, teach-ins,[29] and debates on divestment.[30] In March 2014, students from Divest Harvard recorded an impromptu exchange on divestment with Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust, during which Faust appeared to claim that fossil fuel companies do not block efforts to counteract climate change.[31] The video has since become a source of controversy.[32]

In April 2014, a group of nearly 100 Harvard faculty released an open letter to the Harvard Corporation arguing for divestment.[33] This was followed by a 30-hour blockade of the Harvard president's office by students protesting the president's refusal to engage in a public discussion of divestment; the Harvard administration terminated the blockade by arresting one of the student protesters.[34] Following the protest, Faust said she would not hold the open forum that students and faculty had requested and would not engage with students from Divest Harvard.[35] In May 2014, a group of Harvard alumni interrupted an alumni reunion event with Faust present by standing and holding a pro-divestment banner; the alumni were removed from the event and banned from Harvard's campus.[36]

In September 2014, Harvard faculty renewed their calls for an open forum on divestment[37] and continued to argue for divestment publicly.[38] In October 2014, Divest Harvard organized a three-day fast and public outreach event to call attention to the harms of climate change.[39] In November 2014, a group of students calling themselves the Harvard Climate Justice Coalition[40] filed a lawsuit against the Harvard Corporation to compel divestment on the grounds of Harvard's status as a non-profit organization.[41] The lawsuit was dismissed by a Massachusetts Superior Court judge, who wrote that "Plaintiffs have brought their advocacy, fervent and articulate and admirable as it is, to a forum that cannot grant the relief they seek."[42] The plaintiffs have stated that they plan to appeal the decision.

In January 2015, it was revealed that Harvard had increased its direct investments in fossil fuel companies considerably,[43] and the number of faculty and alumni supporting divestment grew. By April 2015, the faculty group calling for divestment grew to 250,[44] the Harvard alumni club of Vermont officially voted to endorse divestment,[44] and Divest Harvard announced the creation of a fossil-free alumni donation fund that Harvard would receive conditional on divestment.[45] In February 2015, Divest Harvard occupied the president's office for 24 hours in protest of the Harvard Corporation's continued unwillingness to engage students on the topic of divestment.[46] This was followed by an open letter from a group of prominent Harvard alumni urging the university to divest.[47] In April 2015, Divest Harvard and Harvard alumni carried out an announced[48] week-long protest called Harvard Heat Week,[49] which included rallies, marches, public outreach, and a continuous civil disobedience blockade of administrative buildings on campus.[50] The Harvard administration avoided engaging with the protest.[51] Following Heat Week, Divest Harvard carried out an unannounced one-day civil disobedience blockade of the Harvard president's office in protest of continued lack of action by the Harvard administration.[52]

In November 2019, at the annual Harvard-Yale football game, over 150 Harvard and Yale students stormed the field at halftime to demand divestment and the immediate cancellation of holdings in Puerto Rican debt, delaying the start of the second half by over 45 minutes.[53] The event was a joint protest led by Divest Harvard and Fossil Free Yale, and drew extensive coverage from news outlets and on social media, accompanied by the hashtag '#NobodyWins'.[54]

In February 2020, Harvard faculty in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences voted massively in favor of divestment: 179-20.[55]

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Fossil Free MIT (FFMIT) is a student organization at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology made up of MIT undergrads, graduate students, post-docs, faculty, staff and alumni.[56] The group was formed in Fall 2012 by six MIT students following a visit to Boston by Bill McKibben of on his "Do the Math" tour.[57] The group has collected over 3,500 signatures in a petition calling for MIT to (1) immediately freeze new investments in fossil fuel companies, and (2) divest within five years from current holdings in these companies.[58]

Following discussions with FFMIT, the university administration initiated a "campus-wide conversation" on climate change to take place from November 2014 to May 2015, which included the formation of the MIT Climate Change Conversation Committee.[59] The committee, composed of 13 faculty, staff, and students, was charged with engaging the MIT community to determine how the university could address climate change and with offering recommendations.[60] The conversation included solicitation of ideas and opinions of MIT community members, as well as a number of public events. The largest event was a fossil fuel divestment debate among six prominent voices on climate change that was attended by approximately 500 people.[60]

The committee released a report in June 2015, recommending a number of initiatives to be undertaken by the university. In regards to fossil fuel divestment, the committee "rejected the idea of blanket divestment from all fossil fuel companies"; although there was "support by (three-quarter) majority of the committee for targeted divestment from companies whose operations are heavily focused on the exploration for and/or extraction of the fossil fuels that are least compatible with mitigating climate change, for example coal and tar sands."[60]

Following the campus-wide conversation, on 21 October 2015, President L. Rafael Reif announced the MIT Plan for Action on Climate Change. While the plan enacted many of the committee's recommendations, the university administration chose not to divest its holdings in fossil fuel companies, stating that " incompatible with the strategy of engagement with industry to solve problems that is at the heart of today’s plan."[61]

The following day, Fossil Free MIT began a sit-in outside the office of the President to protest the shortcomings of the plan, including the rejection of divestment.[62] Over 100 people overall participated in the sit-in, which received coverage by multiple news outlets, including the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, and the Daily Caller.[63] The sit-in, which lasted 116 days, ended officially with an agreement with Vice President for Research Maria Zuber following negotiations about how to improve the Plan. The agreement did not include divestment, but succeeded in establishing a climate advisory committee and a climate ethics forum. In addition, the administration agreed to strengthen the university's carbon mitigation commitments, striving for carbon neutrality "as soon as possible."[64]

In October 2019, the divestment campaign on MIT's campus was reborn as MIT Divest.[65] The group is demanding that the University divest their endowment within 3 years from companies that have continued to: a) Develop fossil fuel resources beyond the 2°C carbon emissions limit, B) Spread climate disinformation, by themselves or through their proxies, and C) Engage in anti-climate lobbying directly or indirectly.[66]

Smith College

Divest Smith College began in 2013. In April 2014, during Smith’s Student Government Association elections, students voted overwhelmingly in favor of a referendum on fossil fuel divestment.[67]

On September 8, 2014, President Kathleen McCartney announced that the investment committee of the board of trustees had unanimously approved $1 million to be invested in a sustainable global equities fund. This had been a demand by student advocates, and, at the time, about 9 percent of the endowment ($150 million) was invested with managers whose decisions are guided by environmental, social or governance factors.[68]

In February 2015, 30 students flooded into Smith College President Kathleen McCartney’s office today to deliver a Valentine’s Day card signed by over 100 members of the student body to demand the college divest from fossil fuels.[69] During this same month, the Smith College Senate voted in support of divestment and to demand the reinstatement of the Committee on Investor Responsibility with the purpose of investigating divestment from the fossil fuel industry.[70]

In 2015, the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility (ACIR) was reinstated.[71] In March 2017, the Study Group on Climate Change presented recommendations to Smith College, which concluded that “the ACIR explore fossil fuel divestment approaches that simultaneously accomplish Smith’s climate-action goals and financial objectives.”[72]

In October 2017, the Board of Trustees approved four recommendations that were designed to make Smith College and its endowment more sustainable. These included: increase impact investing, favor managers and funds adhering to environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles, avoid future direct holdings in coal, and report regularly on socially responsible investment progress.[73] Divest Smith College praised the school for these goals, but pushed them to commit to full divestment.[70]

In March 2018, around 200 Smith alumnae signed a letter asking the college to divest from fossil fuels. They also encouraged the school to cancel a two-year hiatus that its board of trustees had suggested regarding further action on divestment.[74] Following the alumnae petition, the school’s board of trustees reiterated their opposition to divestment that April.[75]

In April 2019, another student referendum on fossil fuel divestment passed in favor of divestment with 92% of the student body.[71] Additionally, at some point the ACIR endorsed Divest Smith College’s proposals for the divestment from fossil fuel companies.[76]

By fall 2019, the College decided that they were ready to divest. In October 2019, the board of trustees voted to divest 100 percent of its fossil fuel investments within 15 years and exclude all future investments with fossil fuel–specific managers.[76] Divest Smith College praised the school for taking this step, noting additionally that “this decision is not radical, as fossil fuel divestment is financially prudent in the long term.”[77]

Stanford University

Fossil Free Stanford is one of the highest-profile university divestment campaigns in the U.S. In May 2014, the university divested its endowment, then valued at US$18.7 billion, from holdings in coal extraction companies following a sustained campaign by undergraduate students.[78] Author Naomi Klein called the divestment, "the most significant victory in the youth climate movement to date."[79]

The campaign maintains widespread support on the campus, exemplified in multiple all-campus referenda, including in April 2014 and April 2018, in which the student body voted 75 percent and 81 percent in favor of divestment from all fossil fuels, respectively.[80] The Stanford Undergraduate Senate and Stanford Graduate Student Council also both passed resolutions calling for full fossil fuel divestment in 2014.[81] [82] In 2016, the student body Presidents and Vice Presidents from both the 2016–2017 school year and the 2015–2016 school year published a letter calling for the university's leadership to represent the student consensus in support of fossil fuel divestment.[83]

In January 2015, a group of more than 300 Stanford faculty published a letter calling for full divestment, which garnered international attention.[84] Additional faculty signed on in the following weeks such that the total grew to 457 faculty signatories.[85] Signatories included a former president of the university, multiple department chairs, a vice provost, multiple Nobel Laureates, and members of all seven of the university's schools.[86]

In November 2015, in advance of the UNFCCC COP 21 climate negotiations that resulted in the Paris Agreement, over 100 students risked arrest by staging a non-violent sit-in, surrounding the university president's office for 5 days and 4 nights.[87] The sit-in ended when the university's president, John Hennessy, agreed on the fifth day to a public meeting with the student group.[88] In response to the students' publicized plans to hold this sit-in, the university's Board of Trustees published a letter to the UNFCCC calling for bold climate action.[89]

In April 2016, the university's Board announced that it would take no further divestment action related to fossil fuel divestment. In response, a group of over 1000 students and Alumni pledged during the school's graduation ceremonies in June 2016 to withhold all future donations until the school achieved full divestment.[90]

The campaign picked up again in 2019. In spring 2019, the group rallied and brought divestment demands to the University's Board of Trustees.[91] Students then dropped a divestment banner at Harvard's 2019 commencement reading "Divestment is our tactic, climate justice is our goal." Throughout fall 2019, the group held weekly sit-ins on campus to protest for divestment. In February 2020, the group participated in a fossil free week of action, holding rallies and teach-ins.[92] In May 2020, Stanford's Faculty Senate voted against fossil fuel divestment, citing the fossil fuel industry's close ties to on-campus researchers via grants the company makes.[93] In June 2020, the Board of Trustees voted against divestment because they determined that fossil fuel companies do not meet the standard of being “abhorrent and ethically unjustifiable”.[94]

Unity College

In November 2012, Maine's Unity College Board of Trustees voted to divest from fossil fuels.[95]

Yale University

Fossil Free Yale was founded in fall 2012. By November 2013, Yale held a referendum that resulted in 83 percent of student voters declaring their support of fossil fuel divestment. After this, Fossil Free Yale worked with the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility (ACIR), a body that influences the Corporate Committee on Investor Responsibility (CCIR) and ultimately recommended pieces of divestment to CCIR.[96]

In 2014, the Yale Corporate Committee on Investor Responsibility announced that they believed “divestment or shareholder engagement as a precondition to divestment are neither the right means of addressing this serious threat nor would they be effective."[97] On August 27, 2014, Chief Investment Officer David Swensen sent a letter asking investors of Yale’s endowment to “assess the greenhouse gas footprint of prospective investments, the direct costs of the consequences of climate change on expected returns, and the costs of policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions on expected returns.”[98] On the same day, Yale’s Corporation voted not to divest from fossil fuel companies.[99]

On April 9, 2015, 48 protestors from Fossil Free Yale staged a sit-in inside the Yale administration’s main building, asking them to reopen a conversation about divestment. Nineteen members were given infraction tickets and threatened with arrest after they refused to leave at 5 p.m.[100]

In January 2016, FFY submitted a new proposal to the ACIR which specified divestment from all companies whose business model depends on the extraction, transportation, and processing of fossil fuels.[96] In April 2016, Swensen announced that, following his 2014 letter, two investment managers had pulled around $10 million from coal and oil sand producers.[101] This announcement preceded a rally by Fossil Fuel Yale that coincided with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s visit to campus. Ki-Moon lauded the students for their divestment work, as he himself has praised strategies if divestment.[102]

Throughout the 2016-17 school year, FFY kept pressure on with rallies and protests, according to their Facebook page.[103] In April 2017, the Yale Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility announced that they were considering divestment from Exxon Mobil, but in June of the same year, they announced that they would not divest. Yale said that they would base their decision off of whether or not Exxon uses the American Legislative Exchange Council, an interest group that denies global warming and lobbies against climate policy, to perpetuate climate denial.[104]

In May 2017, an investigation by Yale’s graduate student union UNITE HERE Local 33 and FFY revealed that the university held numerous investments related to energy extraction.[105] These investments included $230 million worth of stock in Antero Resources Corporation, a Denver-based oil and gas company with fracking operations.[106] Additionally, Yale invested $53.7 million in Merit Energy Company, a privately held oil and gas producer and $2 million worth of shares in Whitehaven Coal, an Australian coal company.[107] [108]

Yale then sold 99 percent of its direct investment holdings in Antero Resource Corporation in the fourth quarter of the 2018 calendar year.[109]

In the spring of 2018, the FFY began for the first time relating the cause of cancelling Puerto Rican debt to divestment, calling for Yale to “divest from holders of Puerto Rico’s debt so long as this debt goes un-cancelled” in addition to fossil fuels.[103] In October 2018, Yale published ‘position papers,’ reiterating that they would not divest from fossil fuels or Puerto Rican debt. Regarding fossil fuels, they wrote “targeting fossil fuel suppliers for divestment, while ignoring the damage caused by consumers, is misdirected.”[110]

In December 2018, the Yale Police Department cited 48 people, most of whom were Yale undergraduates, for trespassing after a five-hour sit-in at the lobby of the Yale Investments Office calling for divestment from the fossil fuel industry and Puerto Rican debt.[111] In the spring of 2019, students occupied Yale’s Investments Office at least twice times more, with more students arrested.[103]

In September 2019, more than 1,500 Yale students walked out of class to attend a rally for climate change action.[112] This event was followed by protestors of FFY and Divest Harvard disrupting the Harvard-Yale football game in November. The event garnered significant media coverage and even solidarity from the Cambridge City Council with the protestors, though no commitments from either school.[113] After the game, 1400 alumni and students pledged not to donate to Yale until they meet divestment demands, according to FFY’s Facebook page.[103]

External Articles

Wikipedia also has an article on Fossil fuel divestment (Fossil fuel divestment). This article may use content from the Wikipedia article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License].

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