GU Fossil Free pressures University to divest within 5 years

January 24, 2013

GU Fossil Free, a new student group created last semester, delivered a letter to President DeGioia’s office Wednesday morning requesting that Georgetown University immediately begin a process to divest from coal, oil, and natural gas companies within five years.

The letter requested that the administration and Board of Trustees follow schools such as Harvard University, Vassar College, Middlebury College, and Swarthmore College, in “making substantial moves to begin the process” of divestment, said the group in their press release.

GU Fossil Free also suggested the school immediately abstain from making any more investments in fossil fuel companies ,and then continue to remove all current investments in such companies within the suggested time frame. The group believes five years allows for the necessary research on the impact of such a decision and for alternative investments.

The letter asserts that such a decision has no up front cost for the University and will only affect possible future returns, which the group says can be replaced by other investments.

“Fossil fuel companies are responsible for the deteriorating condition of our planet. They pose a threat to public health, and they have a long track record of disregarding human rights,” said Sydney Browning (COL ’15), a member of GU Fossil Free, in the press release. “Consequently, GU Fossil Free believes that investment in any such companies signifies complicity in carrying out one of the most profound injustices of our era.”

GU Fossil Free said that in the past Georgetown has maintained its commitment to the ethical oversight of its investments through its recent decision to terminate its contract with Adidas earlier this year and Russell Athletic in 2009. The letter said that making this decision would also sustain its demonstrated interest in ecological issues evident in its launch of the Environment Initiative last year.

“If Georgetown takes its Jesuit identity seriously, as well as its oft-stated commitment to sustainability and the environment, its actions must match its rhetoric,” said the group in its letter to DeGioia. “In this case, that means putting the University’s money where its mouth is and immediately freezing all new investments in fossil fuel corporations and beginning a five year process to divest completely from them.”

The group believes the school will be able to disclose where the endowment is invested without affecting the confidentiality of other investments. The University’s investment portfolio is not public, a standard practice among most private higher education institutions, and it is not clear to what extent, if any, fossil fuel investments make up that portfolio. The letter cites Middlebury as an example of a school disclosing the amount it invests in fossil fuel companies in light of its own student divestment campaign.

The President’s Office has given the group’s proposal to the Committee on Investments and Social Responsibility, which reviews such requests to “determine whether a proposal has a valid basis,” said Stacy Kerr, Assistant Vice President for Communications, in an email to the Voice. Next the committee will decide whether it should be considered further by either the Board of Directors or the Committee on Finance and Administration.

“We take these concerns seriously,” said Kerr. “In fact, that is precisely why last year we enhanced the Committee on Investments and Social Responsibility with the ability to make recommendations about our investment practices.”

The group also included in its proposal a request to give the CISR review and veto powers over all new endowment investments, saying this action is crucial to ensure Georgetown continues to choose ethical places to put its money after the divestment campaign has ended.

Mark Waterman (SFS ’13), a member of GU Fossil Free, said he hopes the administration is willing to sit down with the group and further discuss the proposal, though he expects some “pushback.”

“What we hope will happen is that we’ll get a timely response from the university regarding our letter and … that they’ll be receptive to our proposal,” said Waterman.

The group plans to continue the initiative by rallying individual student, faculty, and alumni support. Many student organizations have already pledged to help advance the campaign, said Browning. The College Democrats, College Republicans, GU Pride, MEChA, Eco Action, Solidarity Committee, Interfaith Council, several faculty members, several other organizations, and club sports teams will join GU Fossil Free in this campaign, according to the press release.

GU Fossil Free, which started with three students after they heard about a similar campaign at Vassar, is optimistic that they will be successful in this initiative.

“I just want to emphasize that we view this as an opportunity for Georgetown to become a leader in environmental sustainability,” said Browning. “If Georgetown divests, it will send a strong message that we must combat global climate change.”

In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that Voice staffers are among the letter’s signatories.

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