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Editorial | Let's be honest about divestment

Published: Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Updated: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 00:01


On the heels of President Obama’s second inaugural address, which touched heavily on environmental concerns, Tufts Divest For Our Future has been invited by the Board of Trustees to meet with the Board to discuss the future of Tufts’ endowment divestment in fossil fuels. 

Tufts Divest’s strategy thus far has been one of education mixed with action. The group’s various “teach-ins” and events were well attended and their mission is gaining media attention from sources as influential as the New York Times. Tufts Divest’s message is clear: they want the university to cut its hedge-fund investments in various companies that profit from fossil fuel. 

Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. Third-party fund managers control Tufts’ investments in a double-blind system, making it challenging to examine or alter the list of corporations in which the university is invested. In light of this, Executive Vice President Patricia Campbell said in a meeting with Tufts Divest last semester that there is no foolproof way to ensure that endowment money stays away from companies speeding up climate change.

After meeting with other administrators, Tufts Divest is taking the next step in an admittedly difficult task: a meeting with the university’s Board of Trustees. Although this meeting may produce little—or no—change in policy, the trustees have been presented with a unique opportunity to, at the very least, provide these students with a direct and well-argued answer to the question of why we should consider and potentially implement divestment. We at the Daily ask that, rather than a present a public relations campaign or a slapdash and half-hearted response to the divestment request, the trustees give an honest response about why divestment is impossible at this time.

Instead of pointing to the variety of “go green” programs on campus, the Board needs to stand behind the arguably valid reasons that make divestment near-impossible at the moment. It should recognize the effect that its continued investment in fossil fuels has, rather than distancing themselves from the funds they use. By directly approaching the global warming culpability Tufts incurs while continually investing in fossil fuels, the argument that divestment is indeed the right path, but not the path that’s right for right now, would have a bit more weight. 

Giving a simple answer to this very complex and multi-faceted problem would only make matters worse. Saying that Tufts cannot afford to lose the income from fossil fuel supporting hedges does not look good for the university, but the board owes it to an energized and continually growing section of the student body to provide an answer that is not just a write-off of the issue.  

In the meantime, Tufts Divest should continue their efforts. Understandably, at a university that touts the “active  citizenship” of its student body there is going to be active student support of pro-environmental policies, and Tufts Divest has only increased this support. 

Eventually, with enough strength and with a viable alternative, Tufts will ideally divest from coal and fossil fuels. While Thursday will most likely not mark the beginning of that divestment, the stoppage or even slowing of the momentum the divestment group is gaining should not be in the forseeable future either.

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