Students rally for divestment
In a call to action, students marched from the Rabb Steps to the administration buildings last Wednesday, the same day the Board of Trustees was meeting, and urged University President Ron Liebowitz to engage with the Board and discuss fossil fuel divestment.
Organized by Brandeis Climate Justice, a group of about 40 students and faculty members held up signs that read “Climate Justice = Social Justice,” “Don’t invest in death” and “‘There is no such thing as an innocent purchaser of stock’ — Louis Brandeis.” Making their way to lower campus, they chanted “UMass did it, so can we, let’s make Brandeis fossil-free!” and “Hey, Brandeis, step off it! There’s poison in your profit!”
General guidelines for managing the University’s endowment, adopted by the Board of Trustees in 1973, recognize that while it is not the University’s primary mission to “influence the conduct of business corporations with regard to the social consequences of their activities,” the University also should not ignore the ethical implications of investing funds in certain corporations.
A university’s ability to influence corporate actions is limited, the guidelines state, because the amount of funds the University invests is too small to result in any economic detriment to a corporation, and every corporation will at a certain point in time engage in activities that are offensive to some people.
“Only when the corporation is directly and substantially involved in activities clearly considered by the university community to be contrary to fundamental and widely shared ethical principles” should the portfolio managers refrain from purchasing stock from the corporation, according to the guidelines. In order to determine whether the actions taken by a corporation are unethical, the guidelines say that the University's portfolio managers should look at environmental pollution, employment practices, relationships with oppressive governments and consumer health, among others.
Liebowitz joined other university presidents, governors and local officials on June 1 in signing a statement in support of the Paris Climate Agreement.
According to BCJ, in order to uphold the University’s commitment to the agreement, the Board of Trustees should vote to divest from fossil fuels.
On Nov. 9, BCJ gathered over 500 signatures on a petition that called for Liebowitz to discuss fossil fuel divestment in the upcoming Board of Trustees meetings, delivering the petition to the Office of the President on the day of the march.
In 2013, a survey by the University’s Exploratory Committee on Fossil Fuel Divestment showed that 79 percent of students supported a petition to divest, and the University’s faculty passed a resolution on Oct. 20 that commended Liebowitz’s support of the climate agreement and called for a strategy that would end the University’s investments in fossil fuels.
BCJ argues that by investing in fossil fuels, the University is not only acting contrary to its general guidelines for managing its endowment, but that it is also in opposition of its commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement.
The students and faculty marched to bring attention to what they consider the University’s hypocrisy and to remind Liebowitz of his promise to engage the Board of Trustees in a discussion about divestment.
Once they reached the administration buildings, Jordan Mudd ’20 delivered a speech that heavily criticized fossil fuel companies such as Exxon for perpetuating the myth that climate change is not real. “And here we are, Brandeis University, a ‘social justice institution,’ making money off of them,” he said, asking if the University will continue to profit off the companies that are “destroying our planet and its communities.”
Mudd handed off the mic to Prof. Sabine von Mering (GRALL), who started off her speech by saying, “We are here to demand that the Trustees of Brandeis University … end all investments in fossil fuels. We ask them, and you can help me too, to take a stand and divest.” In unison, the crowd responded, “Take a stand and divest.”
Von Mering continued on to say wealthy fossil fuel companies are holding the U.S. government hostage, and that the University must declare “unequivocally” that “we will stop profiting from the political shenanigans of the fossil fuel industry.”
The rally also included a musical performance by Otis Fuqua ’19, Ben Astrachan ’19 and Mudd, as well as a reading of a poem by Renata Leighton ’21, who urged the listeners to “not give in to the fear,” and instead “make it our mission to curb our emissions.”
Cassie Cain ’18 ended the rally by thanking everyone for their support, and asked the people gathered to continue attending BCJ meetings and events and to show their support for divestment, because “we’re not going to go away.”