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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, February 26, 2024

With first steps, divestment advocacy group weighs options

 

The Responsible Endowment Collective (REC), a student group advocating for the removal of fossil fuel companies from Tufts' investment profile, has begun meeting with the Tufts administration to discuss the specifics and feasibility of its campaign.

 At a meeting with Executive Vice President Patricia Campbell in Ballou Hall on Friday, about 20 REC members asked that Tufts divest from the top 50 of Carbon Tracker Initiative's list of 200 publicly traded oil, gas and coal companies within three years and completely divest from the list within five years. The companies are ranked by the volume of carbon held in their reserves, the burning of which contributes to climate change. 

REC presented a newly formed list of requests and 867 petition signatures from Tufts students at the meeting but came in with low expectations, Simon Metcalf, a senior and founding REC member, said.

"Obviously we knew we weren't going to walk in and have Tufts agree to divest from fossil fuels, and I wasn't expecting this meeting to yield any changes whatsoever," Metcalf said. 

However, the group's requests were not immediately dismissed during their first meeting with the administration. 

"I applaud this," Campbell said at the meeting. "I agree that this is something we need to be worried about and that the world had better get its act together and respond."

The first step in the progression of REC's campaign is for the group to convey the specifics of its message. 

REC founder Dan Jubelirer, a sophomore, explained that the request is about Tufts setting an example with its investments, not about environmentally friendly policy on campus.

Because Tufts, like many other universities, does not divulge which companies it invests in, the group does not know how many of the 200 companies are featured in the university's portfolio, Metcalf said. The goal is not to singlehandedly find a solution to climate change but to set a precedent, he added. 

"The purpose of this campaign is not to strike a major blow to the fossil fuel industry, rather it is to take a political and moral stand on the issue of climate change and attempt to reintroduce it into the national conversation," he said. 

The responsibility for directing the investments in Tufts' endowment lies with the Board of Trustees and specifically the Board's Investment Committee, Campbell said.

Campbell told the students that in the past the Board has been open to limited amounts of student input about investments, such as with the three-student Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility (ACSR) created by the Board in 2007. She encouraged the group to prepare a research document for presentation to the Board.

"I think that the Board of Trustees is always really eager and happy to hear from students with well-researched points of view," Campbell said.

Yet regardless of whether the Board and the Investment Committee are open to hearing from REC, Campbell said there are legal limits on how much the Board can vary and control specific investments. 

The limits written into the Board's bylaws include a commitment to protect the returns on the university's investments, she said. 

"They take their decision about how we invest in order to protect that endowment and obtain the return that we need so that the endowment can be here forever," Campbell said. 

In addition, the Board last year shifted away from direct investments in companies to entrusting fund managers with the endowment, Campbell said. The Board has signed a non-disclosure agreement with these companies that prohibits them from naming the companies in which the fund managers have invested.

"We don't buy directly in our endowments," Campbell said. "It's a little hard, technically, for us to say, 'Stop doing that,' because in fact we don't do it. We do
 hire experts in different types of investments and hire the best in those areas to invest on our behalf." 

At the meeting, Jubelirer cited research that suggests that socially responsible investing could be carried out without the university's endowment taking a significant hit. He told the Daily that REC plans to incorporate this evidence into a report to the Board of Trustees. 

"We're going to be sending them a letter and meeting with them eventually," Jubelirer said. "We're going to make the case that we can do this and in the long run it can perform just as well. It's in Tufts' financial interest to divest."

Metcalf said that the meeting with Campbell was an important first step in spreading campus awareness about the issue of fossil fuel divestment.  

"I believe that [Campbell] is genuinely sympathetic with our cause, and from her telling of it, other members of the administration are as well," he said.