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The Carletonian

Professors Urge College to Join Divestment Movement

<rofessors have signed a letter to the administration and the Board of Trustees, urging Carleton to eliminate its direct holdings in the top 200 fossil-fuel companies and to consider divesting from the fossil-fuel companies in its co-mingled funds.

Hundreds of colleges worldwide have student-led divestment movements, and several colleges have committed to divestment, according to The Guardian.

“We hoped to put our weight behind this enormous student movement,” said Carleton chemistry professor Trish Ferrett, who helped draft the letter.

The letter applauded Carleton for its goal to stop emitting carbon by 2050, but warned: “At this late hour of the climate crisis more can and should be done.”

It continued, “The business model of the fossil fuel industry is on a collision course with the life of the planet. We cannot in good conscience stay invested in this industry.”

Remaining invested in the fossil fuel industry is inadvertent support of the industry’s destructive businesspractices, which, according to the letter, contradict Carleton’s support of sustainability and responsible citizenry. Furthermore, support of the fossil-fuel industry contradicts the endowment’s mission to provide future generations of Carls with the same opportunities as current students.

Ferrett emphasized that her teaching inspired her to help draft the letter.

“When I taught “Abrupt Climate Change” in 2005, abrupt climate change was a new science that didn’t seem relevant to today. In 2009, it seemed like there was more evidence in our current world to fit into the abrupt climate change model. Throughout the course, in the back of my head, I asked myself: ‘Are we there yet? Are we experiencing abrupt climate change?’ And, in 2013, I made the central question of the course: Are we experiencing abrupt climate change,” she said.

“Teaching about abrupt climate change and energy showed me that this is a unique situation. We cannot predict what is going to happen, so we need to wake up and change our institutions.”

Math professor Bob Dobrow, who wrote the initial draft of the letter decided to organize faculty support for divestment because climate change “is much larger than just larger than just individuals reducing their carbon footprints. By delegitimizing the profits of the fossil fuel industry, the goal of divestment is to help make it socially and morally unacceptable to be financing fossil-fuel extraction.”

Carleton administration declined to comment directly on its plans related to divestment.

“The College sincerely appreciates this thoughtful and passionate statement, which is a valuable addition to ongoing dialogue,” said Joe Hargis, director of college communications.

He went on to say that the “College has a longstanding tradition of not taking a stance on nonacademic issues” and that “there are more effective ways to reduce emissions” than divestment.

However, he noted, “The endowment is a vehicle to fund the College’s priorities and at this point, it means we have not used the endowment for social change, but that does not mean we cannot use the endowment for social change going forward.

“This is an issue of importance to the College leadership, and trustees are participating in an ongoing discussion on the issue.”

Like the administration, the Carleton Responsible Investment Committee (CRIC) makes recommendations to the Board of Trustees investment subcommittee. CRIC’s mission is to ensure Carleton’s investments are socially responsible.

CRIC faculty co-chair David Tompkins, associate professor of history and director of European studies, signed the faculty letter. He supports divestment because it is “a powerful tool for altering an untenable status quo. I also find it ethically troubling to profit from companies that engage in long-term damage to the planet.”

Tompkins said that CRIC is still discussing divestment and therefore, has yet to make a statement in support or in opposition of divestment.

“One of our functions is to serve as conduit between the Carleton community and the Trustees on ethical issues related to the management of the endowment, and the faculty letter is a meaningful intervention in the debate over divestment,” he said.

Going forward, Dobrow hopes that faculty will continue to work with alumni and students who are working for divestment.

Faculty will formally present the petition to the Board of Trustees, which has the final say on the College’s investments.

Dobrow and Ferrett both said that divestment would take a while to figure out and implement because it is a new issue. According to Ferrett, “We need to acknowledge that we are entering into a game that no one knows how to play. We need to be the players who help figure it out, even though it is not going to be easy.

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