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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Why Tufts' search for our new president must prioritize fossil fuel divestment

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The president's home on Tufts' campus, Gifford House, is pictured on Oct. 2.

With President Anthony Monaco stepping down in the summer of 2023, Tufts is getting prepared to lose a leader who “strengthened the university by every possible metric,” as Board of Trustees Chair Peter Dolan stated in an email to the Tufts community in February. It’s inarguable that Monaco's contributions to Tufts have been tremendous in their efforts to rebuild and strengthen the Tufts community. Yet, while many have expressed their disappointment in Monaco’s farewell, his departure has also been met with great anticipation.

Since the early 2010s — especially with the establishment of Swarthmore College’s coal divestment campaign and their stance in solidarity with communities protesting coal mining in Appalachia — university involvement in the fossil fuel divestment movement has spread nationwide and is currently reaching a pinnacle. As popularity in university campaigns grew, students targeted fossil fuel companies, predominantly in the coal and oil industries, as prime contributors to global warming and endorsers of unsustainable business models. The students are not wrong in doing so: Fossil fuel companies have sat at the core of the deeply rooted issues linked to climate change. 

However, attention has gradually begun to shift as university sustainability initiatives went from pointing the blame toward fossil fuel companies’ unsustainable methods to targeting the companies’ sources: investors. Gradually, the fossil fuel divestment spotlight became more focused on university investment offices, their presidents and their lack of action on divestment. With attention shifted to university action, divestment rates began to rapidly increase. 

As early as 2015, more than 400 institutions (both academic and nonacademic) publicly planned to divest from fossil fuel holdings in assets that totaled $2.6 trillion. This upward  trend has continued among schools in the Boston area, marked by Harvard’s plan to gradually eliminate fossil fuel holdings from its $42 billion endowment as of fall 2021 and Boston University’s divestment from coal and tar sand companies in 2016.

Thus far, divestment has been largely viewed as a positive step in the fight against climate change. Students across the country continue to campaign in order to disprove the assumption that the only path of improvement in sustainability is through political and capital reform. Such nationwide action raises the question of what Tufts is doing to help this cause.

Tufts has since divested from direct investments with the 120 largest oil and tar sand companies but absolved itself of any responsibility for investments in oil and natural gas companies or the many indirect investments being made with their $2 billion endowment. In fact, the majority of Tufts funds invested in fossil fuel companies are indirect investments in commingled funds, according to a 2020 report. 

By failing to address these issues, Tufts is attempting to avoid complete divestment by establishing new sustainability initiatives, one after the other, hoping that they will merely cancel each other out without having to withdraw high-stake fuel investments. Partial divestment from Tufts’ pool in fossil fuel companies does not distract from the university's indirect investments that continue to financially support prime contributors to global warming.

As the search for a new university president continues into Monaco’s last year here on the Hill, more students should follow the precedent of action around campus by  continuing to protest and work with the Office of Sustainability and Provost Genco to target full divestment. We should also hold the Office of the Trustees and the Presidential Search Committee accountable to prioritize full divestment in their search for a new Tufts president. 

As the Tufts committee announces their commitment to a search that “considers candidates from across a broad and diverse spectrum of backgrounds,” such inclusive motives must also prioritize total divestment. Without newly directed, sustainable leadership, Tufts will continue to fall behind other universities around the Boston area, meeting sustainability efforts halfway through partial divestment on top of the seemingly stagnant progress toward carbon neutrality. It’s fair to say that without a president who views divestment as an immediate, pressing issue, Tufts will be looking at another presidential term funded by big fossil fuel companies.