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Friday, September 12, 2014

'Wake Up Call Sounded' on Climate, University Faculty Launch Largest Divestment Effort to Date

245 Boston University faculty members ask President and Board of Trustees to divest its endowment from oil, gas, and coal companies.

by Deirdre Fulton, staff writer, Common Dreams, September 11, 2014

A group of Divest BU activists at a rally outside the Massachusetts statehouse this spring. (Photo: Divest BU)
In the largest of such efforts by a single university's faculty to date, 245 Boston University professors and instructors on Tuesday called on the President and Board of Trustees to divest its endowment from oil, gas, and coal companies. 

“Because it is unlikely that fossil fuel interests (the major source of this crisis) will stop of their own accord their unrelenting drive to burn these fuels at current rates, we must find strategies to induce them to stop," the letter reads. “We have a moral obligation to align our financial interests with the future of our planet. It is wrong to use our endowment to commission the destruction of a hospitable climate for our students, our children and—as is increasingly evident—ourselves. The wake up call has sounded. It is time to act!”

Faculty representatives, along with a member of the DivestBU student group with which the faculty has formed a coalition, brought their petition to the office of university President Robert Brown on Tuesday afternoon. Brown accepted the letter personally and spoke with the group for about half an hour.

“We are very pleased to hear that President Brown shares with the faculty a deep concern over the threat of climate change,” biology professor Ed Loechler said in a statement. “He also concurs that climate change will be the most important investment issue for the university in the next few years and will thus encourage the institution to engage in open dialogue on this matter.”

Brown said he would forward the petition to the trustees when they meet in two weeks and to the University’s Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing, which was created last year. According to BU Today, the university's news site, the board has divested due to social pressures "at least twice before: in 1979, when it pulled BU’s money from companies with ties to South Africa to protest apartheid, and in 2006, when it divested from companies directly tied to or supporting businesses in Sudan, to protest that government’s genocide in Darfur."

BU Today reports that Brown, "who is a chemical engineer, confessed to being personally ambivalent about whether divestment was the best strategy for 'a very complicated issue.'" He has claimed the best way to combat climate change is to reduce consumption of fossil fuels; to that end, the university has adopted a plan to cut its emissions by focusing on conservation, retrofitting older buildings, and switching from oil to natural gas for energy needs. 

The group says its action builds on the momentum of previous higher education divestment calls, most recently from last April when 93 members of Harvard University’s faculty urged the university to divest from fossil fuels.  According to the website, more than a dozen colleges and universities have already pledged to divest from fossil fuels. There are active divestment campaigns on many more campuses across the country.

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