NEW YORK, Dec. 7, 2016 – The Barnard Presidential Task Force to Examine Divestment has submitted to the Board of Trustees its report on fossil fuel divestment. After a nine-month review, the Task Force recommends that the College divest from all fossil fuel companies that deny climate science or otherwise seek to thwart efforts to mitigate the impact of climate change. The Task Force, comprised of trustees, faculty, staff and students, was formed in response to a student campaign led by the group Divest Barnard.
The recommendation to divest from climate change deniers would align the College’s investments with its core mission, centered on academic freedom and scientific integrity. This will enable the College to distinguish between companies based on their behavior and willingness to transition to a cleaner economy and could create incentives for the poorest performers to change their ways.
“Barnard acknowledges the increasing demand, both from our students and the greater public, to act as ‘ethical investors’ and do our part to fight climate change,” President Debora Spar said. “The College is proud of its history of proactive engagement with social and political issues, from divestment from apartheid South Africa in 1985 to the 2015 decision to expand our admissions policy to include transgender women. Our relatively small size allows us to serve as incubators for new ideas, and divesting from companies that deny climate change is an intriguing and potentially impactful next step.”
The Task Force maintains that a decision to divest must be balanced with the need to protect and grow the endowment, a critical component of Barnard’s financial health and a key goal of its current $400 million capital campaign, The Bold Standard.
The Task Force also recommends that the College undertake a robust climate action program to reduce its carbon footprint, appoint a sustainability officer or dean to lead a campus-wide effort to set time-bound, measurable goals, and engage members of the community in instilling a culture of sustainability across the campus.
“Divesting from companies that actively distort climate science findings or block efforts to plan for a world free from carbon pollution would support the College’s academic mission,” said Task Force member Professor Stephanie Pfirman, a leading climate scientist and Co-Chair of the Department of Environmental Science with a joint appointment at Columbia University. “Divestment is not only a symbolic gesture – it is an important next step in Barnard’s 360-degree approach to responsible management of the planet and its resources for future generations.”
The Task Force recognizes that these recommendations build upon an already strong effort at Barnard to reduce carbon emissions and a long history as a pioneer in environmental research and education. Barnard was one of the first colleges or universities to require a course on climate for environmental majors, and now at least thirteen programs offer a course focused on climate, sustainability, or the environment. Faculty are also deeply involved with high-profile climate and sustainability research and education around the world.
“Divest Barnard is glad that the Task Force is recommending divestment from fossil fuels, something Barnard students have been calling for during the past two years,” said Task Force member and Divest Barnard representative Evelyn Mayo ’17. “It is crucial that student voices are being heard on this critical issue and we appreciate that the Task Force took this effort seriously and came to a consensus to support divestment. This is one step in the immense efforts needed to mitigate climate change, and we look forward to continuing this meaningful and necessary work with the Barnard administration.”
The Board of Trustees Committee on Investments received the report this morning and expressed its appreciation for the hard work of all of the Task Force members. Pending a full review of implementation issues, the Committee on Investments expects to recommend approval of the Task Force's recommendations to the full Board at its next meeting in March. Before that point, the College will host a series of community forums to discuss the issue of divestment further.
Founded in 1889, Barnard was the only college in New York City, and one of the few in the nation, where women could receive the same rigorous and challenging education available to men. Today, as the world-renowned liberal arts college for women at Columbia University, Barnard remains devoted to empowering extraordinary women to become even more exceptional. For more information on the Task Force report, contact Barnard Media Relations at 212-854-2037 or firstname.lastname@example.org.