Barnard’s Board of Trustees announced on March 4 approval of a plan to divest from fossil fuel companies that deny climate science or otherwise seek to thwart efforts to mitigate the impact of climate change—a first for any college nationally. The recommendation, which was drafted after a nine-month review, was submitted by the Barnard Presidential Task Force to Examine Divestment to the Board of Trustees in December 2016. The Task Force was comprised of trustees, faculty, staff and students, which was formed in response to a student-led campaign by the group Divest Barnard.
“The Board of Trustees acknowledges the increasing need to act as ethical investors and do our part to fight climate change,” said Linda Fayne Levinson ’62, Board of Trustees Committee on Investments chair. “Divesting from companies that deny climate change supports the College's academic mission and is an important next step in Barnard's 360-degree approach to promoting sustainability.”
The plan to divest builds upon the College’s long history as a pioneer in environmental research and education and is currently involved in a number of sustainability initiatives. Furthermore, it aligns the College’s investments with its core mission, centered on academic freedom and scientific integrity, and 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.
“More than ever, academic freedom and scientific integrity are under attack. We applaud Barnard for taking this innovative approach to aligning the College’s investments with its values,” said Kathy Mulvey, climate accountability campaign manager at the Union for Concerned Scientists and co-author of the UCS’s Climate Accountability Scorecard.
Members of the Task Force considered five options: no divestment, investment in an alternative energy fund, divestment from companies that mine coal and tar sands, divestment from organizations that deny climate science, and full divestment from all fossil fuel companies.
The Task Force weighed the financial and fiduciary responsibilities of the Board to grow the value of Barnard’s endowment and the moral and ethical issues surrounding Barnard’s responsibility to do its part to address the climate change issue. Ultimately the Task Force decided, and the Board approved, to combine these options—divestment from deniers of climate science as well as from companies that mine coal and tar sands and also implementation of a plan for the College to reduce its carbon footprint and become more sustainable.