Tufts University Students Vote Overwhelmingly in Favor of Fossil Fuel Divestment

In a student-wide referendum, 74% of Tufts student voters cast a ballot in favor of divestment of the university’s endowment holdings from the fossil fuel industry.

The student body was asked to vote on the question “Should Tufts University divest its endowment from fossil fuel companies provided that doing so does not adversely affect the financial status of the university?” The referendum was organized as part of an ongoing campaign to pressure Tufts’ Board of Trustees to divest its holdings in the top 200 publicly-traded oil, coal, and gas companies. The campaign, known on campus as “Tufts Divest for Our Future,” is part of an international movement for divestment spearheaded by the climate change advocacy group 350.org.

While the referendum cannot compel the Board of Trustees to take action on divestment, Tufts Divest for Our Future hopes to use their success as both a movement-building tool on campus and a point of leverage in discussions with university administrators. “We’re very excited to take the results of this vote back to the Board to show them how much support at Tufts there is for this campaign.” said sophomore Luke Sherman, one of the primary student organizers of the referendum effort. “The passage of the referendum shows that Tufts students value a just and sustainable future and a University that lives up to its mission statement.” Similar referenda have also been held at Harvard and Brandeis Universities, with a decisive majority of students voting in favor of divestment at those schools as well.

The students organizing the referendum held several events this week to educate the student body about divestment and raise awareness about the vote,  including a screening of “Do The Math,” a documentary film about the divestment movement; a “speak-out” where student activists from various campaigns were invited to speak about how the divestment campaign dovetails with other social justice efforts; and a “teach-in” where a panel of students and experts discussed the divestment issue. “The idea was to inject a discussion about the climate crisis into the student culture,” said junior Daniel Jubelirer,  who has been active in the divestment campaign since its inception last fall.

In addition to Wednesday’s vote, the Tufts Divest for Our Future campaign has run petition drives that have collected over 1500 petition signatures in support of divestment from students, as well as hundreds of signatures from alumni and faculty. Over the past year, students in the campaign have met with Tufts president Anthony Monaco, the Board of Trustees Investment Committee, and other administrators to discuss the question of divestment.

In May 2013, compelled by arguments in favor of divestment, the University created the Presidential Working Group on Socially Responsible Investment and Climate Change. The group, comprised of Tufts students, faculty, and trustees, has been charged with researching what divestment would mean for the University.

“We know that we still have a lot of work to do before the Board commits to anything, but the results of this vote have given us a lot of hope moving forward,” said working group member Lila Kohrman-Glaser, a junior. “This campaign is giving Tufts an opportunity to position itself as a visionary leader on the issue of climate change, and we believe that our administration will make the right choice,” Kohrman-Glaser added.

This was sent out as a press release as soon as we learned the results of the referendum vote.

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Response to the Tufts Daily Editorial

Editorial note: Today, the Tufts Daily ran an editorial titled “Ethical, but not yet practical.”  A member of Tufts Divest wrote a letter to the editor, correcting some assumptions and statements in the piece. The Daily will not run this piece before the referenda vote, so we wanted to post it online for people to read. 

 

Dear Editor,

 As a longtime member of the Tufts Divest for Our Future campaign, I wanted to respond to some of the assertions made in Tuesday’s editorial, and correct some statements made that do not accurately reflect our tactics or goals.

First, I have two points in response to the statement “Tufts Divest has thus far not provided an understanding of the fact that immediate removal of investments in these companies is not plausible or provided an alternative investment strategy that would see similar returns.”

1) We are not advocating for the immediate removal of investments. Instead, we are asking that the Board gradually phase out their investments over a period of five years.

2) You are correct that we have not ourselves “provided an alternative investment strategy that would see similar returns.” This is because a number of investment firms, banks, and nonprofit organizations with the expertise to navigate the nuances of this complex issue have already done so. We encourage anyone interested in the details of minimal-risk divestment and alternative reinvestment pathways to look at the recent reports by HSBC, the Aperio Group, Impax Asset Management, Boston Common Asset Management, and Portfolio 21, among others. Several of these studies present models that show fossil fuel-free portfolios performing as well as or even slightly better than those invested in the industry.

Next, with regards to “past divestment campaigns have served to shape public discourse about certain issues but have been financially ineffective in the sense that divestment did not actually affect the ‘financial markets’ valuations of targeted companies” – you are again correct that divestment is unlikely to affect the share values of the 200 fossil fuel companies we are targeting, but that is not the point of this campaign.

The purpose of divestment is not to directly hurt the stock value of companies like BP and ExxonMobil, but rather to encourage the public opinion that the business model of those companies is short-sighted, dangerous, irresponsible, and morally wrong, and to create a political climate where action on climate change is more feasible as a result of this public opinion. Targeting companies through divestment has the power to create a widespread stigma that can ultimately affect much more powerful long-term change than a simple drop in share prices ever could.

 A study released on Monday by Oxford University, entitled “Stranded assets and the fossil fuel divestment campaign: what does divestment mean for the valuation of fossil fuel assets?” assesses these goals and impacts in great detail. I encourage anyone interested in learning more about the theory of change behind divestment review this study. An excerpt: “Stigma attached to merely one small area of a large company may threaten sales across the board…The outcome of the stigmatization process, which the fossil fuel divestment campaign has now triggered, poses the most far-reaching threat to fossil fuel companies and the vast energy value chain.”

I would like to add that divestment from fossil fuels is an international campaign operating on 317 college campuses, in 109 cities and states, and in 9 religious institutions – it is not by any means an effort limited to Tufts. For more resources and information on divestment than I could possibly enumerate, please visit gofossilfree.org.

Speaking of shaping discourse, I have been excited to observe the conversations that have arisen on campus around this issue, and I encourage everyone who has been involved in these conversations to vote in today’s referendum before midnight tonight. I of course hope you all vote “yes,” but I am well aware that not everyone agrees with us, and I would frankly be surprised and even a little disappointed if you all did. So regardless of your position on divestment, please do vote, and I hope that you do so based on your own informed assessment of divestment, rather than on your views of some of the particular tactics of our group, or on misconceptions and assumptions such as those published in Tuesday’s editorial.

Whichever side of the issue you might stand on, I thank you all for sharing your convictions and for often challenging our own assumptions. It is at moments like this that I am most proud to be part of this smart and passionate community.

 

Sincerely,

 

Devyn Powell

A’14, International Relations & Environmental Studies

Member, Presidential Working Group Regarding Socially Responsible Investments and Climate Change

 

Vote YES to DIVEST!

Vote YES to DIVEST!

Vote YES to DIVEST!

The rumors are true…

On Wednesday, October 9th, the entire Tufts student body will have a chance to vote on the issue of divestment! Students will be asked if the University should divest from the fossil fuel industry, provided that doing so will not harm the university financially.

We are preparing for an epic week of action, including a teach-in, a rally, and The Revolution Begins Now: A Social Justice Speakout!

If you want to get involved and help with outreach for the referendum, contact tuftsdivest@gmail.com

RSVP on Facebook, and check out our upcoming events!

–> Do The Math film screening
Monday, Oct 7th 8:30PM
Cabot Auditorium

–>Building the Revolution: Speak Out for Justice
Tuesday, Oct 8th 6PM
Lower Campus Center Patio

–> Divestment Teach-In
Tuesday Oct. 8th 8PM
Cabot Auditorium

–>Vote Yes to Divest RALLY
Wed, Oct 9th 12PM NOON
Tisch Patio