Divestment talks await conclusion
After the University's Exploratory Committee on Fossil Fuel Divestment had its first meeting of the calendar year on Friday, the exact nature of the six-month-old committee's progress remains uncertain.
Rohan Bhatia '14, a student on the committee, said in an interview with the Justice that while the committee does not have the authority or expertise to make any recommendations to the Board of Trustees, the committee hopes "to give them a well-substantiated presentation on the impacts of divestment to Brandeis" as well as the "larger social impact of no action taken with regards to climate change." Bhatia was unable to provide a specific timeline for any progress, but told the Justice that he hopes the Board "will review and respond to [the committee's] report" at a future meeting.
The spring 2013 semester saw significant student involvement in lobbying the administration to divest the University from fossil fuels, spearheaded by the student group Students for a Just and Stable Future. These efforts included events such as a mock climate refugee camp in Fellows Garden and a march through campus in support of divestment, and culminated in a divestment referendum in the Student Union's annual April election. Seventy-nine percent of students who voted agreed that the University should divest its endowment from fossil fuels.
According to Bhatia, the committee has made progress in its three main research tracks: financial impact, social impact and alternatives. Bhatia described the financial impact as looking "into the financial impact of divestment on our endowment," one of the main arguments used against calls to divest.
As far as social impact, Bhatia said that this research track "delves into health, economic and other impacts of climate change which will become a reality" if certain human environmental behaviors remain unchanged. In terms of alternatives, Bhatia told the Justice that the committee was looking into "other mechanisms and strategies the University may employ, in addition to or in place of, divestment as laid out by 350.org." The website 350.org is the online home of the self-described "grassroots movement" that aims to "hold our leaders accountable to the realities of science and the principles of justice" according to its "about us" section.
According to Bhatia, the three research teams will compile their findings into one report for the Investments Committee of the Board of Trustees.
Bhatia also said that he hopes the Board will review and respond to the committee's findings at one of their upcoming meetings.
The existence of the committee, which was formed over the summer, was formally announced on Sept. 30, 2013 in an email from University President Frederick Lawrence to the Brandeis community. Peter Giumette, dean of Student Financial Services, is the chair of the committee.
According to Lawrence's email, the committee was formed to examine "the University's investments in fossil fuels." The committee will ultimately present a report of its findings to the University, addressing "how it can invest and divest responsibly" while simultaneously "strengthening its leadership in the context of climate change and social justice."
Lawrence also stated that the committee's goals are "analyzing the social and environmental justice impacts of the fossil fuel companies in which Brandeis holds investments," determining the impact of divestment on the endowment, establishing a list of alternative investment options that are more socially and environmentally friendly and "addressing a more global objective of reducing the endowment's carbon footprint."
The committee is composed of faculty, staff, students alumni and Len Potter '83, Board of Trustees Investment Committee member. Members include Student Union President Ricky Rosen '14, Bhatia, Prof. John Ballantine (IBS), Prof. Eric Olson (Heller), Mike Abrams '15, Rachel Soule '12 and Colin Mew M.B.A. '14. Administration members include Senior Vice President of Students and Enrollment Andrew Flagel, Senior Vice President of Communications Ellen de Graffenreid, Associate Provost of Innovation in Education Prof. Dan Perlman (BIOL), Senior Vice President and Chief of Staff David Bunis '83 and Chief Investment Officer Nick Warren.
The Divestment Committee meets every three weeks, according to Bhatia. Guimette and Abrams did not respond to the Justice by press time, while Ballantine could not be reached for comment regarding Friday's meeting.