Members of the Barnard community discussed the recommendations of the Presidential Task Force to Examine Divestment at a campus Town Hall event on February 15.
The Task Force—composed of trustees, students, faculty, and staff—has made the following recommendations:
1) The College should divest holdings from (a) fossil fuel companies that deny climate science or otherwise seek to thwart efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change and (b) companies involved in mining coal and tar sands, which are considered particularly harmful to the environment;
2) The College should pursue a robust effort to reduce its carbon footprint and become more sustainable.
Student activists who drove the initiation and work of the Task Force presented recommendations at the Town Hall together with Chief Operating Officer Rob Goldberg, President Debora Spar, and Economics Professor Rajiv Sethi.
All emphasized that when the Task Force recommendations are implemented, Barnard College would be a leader in its approach to fossil fuel divestment and the first college to take the unique and innovative approach of divesting from climate change deniers. According to the organization leading the Fossil Free movement, 350.org, Barnard would be the first institution to disqualify companies denying climate science from its endowment investments, according to Inside Higher Ed.
Helen Cane ‘17, the student research assistant on the Task Force, said that by demonstrating that “climate deniers are an affront to our academic mission,” the College can be a leader and “serve as a catalyst to other colleges.”
The Task Force report “lays out a way of thinking that is different from the thinking at any other college,” said President Spar. “I’m already getting calls from other college presidents asking to see our report and to talk with our students about our [Task Force] process.”
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 would 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.
This twofold approach requires the College to make investment changes and alter day-to-day functions of campus operations.
Student task force member Evelyn Mayo ‘18 said, “There will be a continual oversight process that will require buy-in and participation from the entire community.”
The Presidential Task Force to Examine Divestment met from February 2016 until December 2016 following calls from the student activist group Divest Barnard, which urged the College’s administration and Board to consider divesting its endowment from fossil fuel companies. Approximately 4% of the College’s endowment, worth about $297 million for the 2015 fiscal year, is invested in fossil fuels.
The goal of the Task Force was to enable the Committee on Investments and, subsequently, the Board of Trustees, to make an informed decision about whether to seek divestment from companies that extract, process, distribute, and sell fossil fuels. Members 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 to recommend a combination of these options, suggesting divestment from deniers of climate science as well as from companies that mine coal and tar sands, and also recommending that the College reduce its carbon footprint and become more sustainable.
The full report is available at https://barnard.edu/sites/default/files/bc-divestmentreport2-2016dec.pdf.
Those who were unable to attend the Town Hall may share their comments and questions by emailing the Task Force at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For a full listing of members of the Task Force, as well as additional information and resources, please visit https://barnard.edu/vision-values/divestment-task-force.
Barnard’s Board of Trustees will meet in early March to consider the Task Force’s report and vote on its recommendations.