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What They’re Saying

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After a thoughtful and deliberative review, nearly every institution that considered and ultimately rejected the divestment argument did so for a number of reasons, ranging from financial considerations, to academic freedom, all the way down to the avoidance of being hypocritical, since every one of the schools targeted continues to be users of fossil fuels. Below is what current and former representatives of these institutions are saying in rejecting the divestment campaign.

University of Michigan President Dr. Mark Schlissel

Fossil fuels enable us to operate the university, to conduct research and to provide patient care. . I do not believe that a persuasive argument has been made that divestment by the U-M will speed up the necessary transition from coal to renewable or less polluting sources of energy. For these reasons, I do not think that consideration of divestment from fossil fuels is the right step. We made a commitment to our donors to use income generated from the endowment to support our mission for today and for future generations –academic and research programs, student support, and life-saving patient care. The endowment should not be used to further other causes, however noble.

December 2015 - Read Full Remarks

MIT President L. Rafael Reif

In our judgment, the deliberate public act of divestment would entangle MIT in a movement whose core tactic is large-scale public shaming…This would retard rather than encourage the open collaboration and ability to hear new ideas that are central to our research relationships, central to our ability to help government and business think creatively together, and central to our ability to convene and inform the thinking of those with opposing views.

October 2015 - Read Full Remarks

Harvard University President Drew Faust

I don’t think that divestment is an appropriate tool, because I don’t think the endowment should be used for exerting political pressure. It is meant to fund the wide range of activities that the University undertakes. As we said before, 35 percent of our operating budget comes from the endowment. That is why people gave their funds to create the endowment. It should not be used as a weapon to exert pressure on one group or another.

There are many dangers and it has little effective outcome. What would it mean if we sold our investments? Very little, because there are plenty of other people who will invest in those firms.

September 2015 - Read Full Remarks

Harvard University President Drew Faust

The endowment is a resource, not an instrument to impel social or political change. …I also find a troubling inconsistency in the notion that, as an investor, we should boycott a whole class of companies at the same time that, as individuals and as a community, we are extensively relying on those companies’ products and services for so much of what we do every day.

Given our pervasive dependence on these companies for the energy to heat and light our buildings, to fuel our transportation, and to run our computers and appliances, it is hard for me to reconcile that reliance with a refusal to countenance any relationship with these companies through our investments.

October 2013 - Read Full Remarks

Columbia University Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing

The merits of the case are not clearly on one side, nor are we sure that Columbia’s divestment would send a signal more powerful than engagement. It seems unlikely to us that divestment from fossil fuel would ‘revoke a social license’ when we continue to use fossil fuels day after day in every aspect of our lives.

February 2015 - Read Full Remarks

Cornell University President David J. Skorton

The publicly-traded energy companies in our portfolio, for example, collectively have large research and development budgets committed to alternative energy strategies. The top five energy companies have more than $20 billion committed to alternative and sustainable energy research and development.

Because of the endowment income’s importance to our operating budget, we invest in asset classes that we believe will earn returns robust enough to keep up with both our annual withdrawals and with inflation. Energy is expected to be one of highest returning asset classes going forward and is a good hedge against inflation.

April 2013 - Read Full Remarks

Brown University President Christina Paxson

As a university, Brown has a responsibility to grapple with the world’s problems in all their complexity. As I and others considered the matter, it became apparent that the symbolic statement of divestiture would not elucidate the complex scientific and policy issues surrounding coal and climate change and, for this reason, it would run counter to Brown’s mission of communicating knowledge.

October 2013 - Read Full Remarks

University of California, Berkeley Board of Regents Task Force on Sustainable Investment

The majority of the Task Force concluded that divestment in and of itself would not meaningfully impact climate change. In addition, the majority of Task Force members believe that the cumulative benefit from the University’s divestment from fossil fuels would not outweigh the total costs incurred from the divestment of fossil fuels from the University’s $91 billion investment portfolio.

September 2014 - Read Full Remarks

Georgetown University Committee on Investments and Social Responsibility

After lengthy discussion, CISR concurred with the need to act in light of these concerns, but did not support the proposal for full divestment submitted by Georgetown University Fossil Free.

January 2015 - Read Full Remarks

New York University (NYU) Executive Vice President for Finance and IT Martin Dorph

In order to eliminate the $139 million in fossil fuel investments, NYU would have to liquidate relationships with 39 funds that together account for 38% of the endowment, or $1.3 billion. The Working Group concluded this was not financially prudent.

March 2015 - Read Full Remarks

Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins

We’re sitting in a room that’s heated and lighted, and when we drive to where we go, we use fossil fuels, it seems to me that it would seem to be hypocritical to say, ‘we’re going to divest from the companies we rely on for the energy, what we need to do business.’ So I think what we need is a gradual but more determined effort to make our use of energy sustainable.

February 2015 - Read Full Remarks

Duke University Duke Advisory Committee on Investment Responsibility

We are not persuaded that divestment is an effective strategy to hasten the processes by which we will become less dependent on fossil fuels in the near term, and because of our concern that divestment could polarize discussions surrounding strategies that could accelerate development and use of non-fossil fuel energy, we do not support the divestment option.

January 2015 - Read Full Remarks

Middlebury College President Ronald Liebowitz

At this time, too many of these questions either raise serious concerns or remain unanswered for the board to support divestment. Given its fiduciary responsibilities, the board cannot look past the lack of proven alternative investment models, the difficulty and material cost of withdrawing from a complex portfolio of investments, and the uncertainties and risks that divestment would create. Instead, we will focus on the positive differences Middlebury can make through its actions, in the best tradition of our institution.

August 2013 - Read Full Remarks

Princeton University President Emeritus William G. Bowen

Taking an institutional stand on political issues of many kinds threatens the primary educational mission of the university, which is to be avowedly open to arguments of every kind and to avoid giving priority to partisan or other political viewpoints.

These are times when educational institutions need to work harder, in my view, to improve educational outcomes, especially for less-privileged students. …Well-intentioned but poorly conceived efforts to compel colleges and universities to fight extramural battles of all kinds can impair efforts to work harder on issues of great social as well as educational consequence that are at the core of the basic educational mission of higher education.

March 2015 - Read Full Remarks

Tufts University President Tony Monaco

The Tufts Divestment Working Group asked the university’s Investment Office to conduct a rigorous analysis of what would happen to our endowment if we divested from fossil fuel companies. Even the most conservative model showed that the endowment would experience a significant loss of return—$75 million in market value over the next five years—in large part because of our investments in commingled funds.

To put the projected impact in perspective, $75 million would provide endowment income to fund scholarships for 100 undergraduates or annual stipends for 125 Ph.D. students, or fund the entire 2012 state appropriation for the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine.

February 2014 - Read Full Remarks

Davidson College President Carol Quillen

Besides being a questionable tool for regulatory and social change in this instance, divestment would impede the Committee’s mission and we are not in a position to put that priority in jeopardy.

Divestiture by Davidson would have no economic influence over the energy companies and no impact on global energy demand. Moreover, we question the integrity of making a symbolic gesture while continuing to power our campus with energy produced from fossil fuels.

March 2014 - Read Full Remarks

American University Board of Trustees Chair Jeffrey A. Sine

Since the conditions for board’s primary fiduciary responsibilities cannot be satisfied, the Finance and Investment Committee concluded that divestment is not an option the board can take to express a position on climate change.

November 2014 - Read Full Remarks

Pomona College College President David W. Oxtoby

Far from being a minimal cost, Cambridge’s projections show that divestment would in all likelihood result in a total decrease in the endowment’s performance over a 10-year period of about $485 million. This loss of growth in the total endowment, caused mainly by the need to withdraw from the best actively managed commingled funds, would result in an estimated $6.6 million loss in annual spendable income for such things as financial aid, faculty and staff salaries and program support.

It also remains unclear that divestment would have anything more than a symbolic impact in fighting climate change. …Although symbolism does matter, it is hard to make the case that it would be worth the significant cost to future Pomona students.

September 2013 - Read Full Remarks

CalSTRS Chief Investment Officer Chris Ailman

I’ve been involved in five divestments for our fund. All five of them we’ve lost money, and all five of them have not brought about social change.

June 2015 - Read Full Remarks

University of Tennessee Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer Charles Peccolo

Last year, 90 percent of the endowment’s payout went to supportive scholarships, instruction, and research. Eliminating a broad segment of the market from investment could hinder future funding of these endeavors.

January 2014 - Read Full Remarks

Bryn Mawr College Board of Trustees Investment Policy Subcommittee Chair Cheryl R. Holland

While divestment would hurt the College financially, we don’t believe it would have any impact on the companies targeted by your proposal. …We also believe that divestment will not accomplish the larger and central goal of reducing the use of fossil fuels.

To divest of the College’s direct private investments in oil and gas partnerships within the next five years would force the College to take, at minimum, an estimated $10 million loss on these investments. …In fact, divesting from companies based solely on the amount of fossil fuel reserves they own ignores the extent to which they are investing in alternative energy sources and how environmentally friendly their practices are or could be in the future.

August 2013 - Read Full Remarks

University of North Carolina UNC Management Company President Jon King

Climate change is a serious issue and we take it seriously. We want to make a positive contribution, we just don’t think divestment is the optimal way to go.

February 2015 - Read Full Remarks

Bowdoin College President Clayton Rose

I’ve done a lot of reading about where we come from and what our policies are as well as what other schools have done, and I have read or heard nothing to change my view that we should not divest.

July 2015 - Read Full Remarks

Bates College President Clayton Spencer

To guarantee divestment from these 200 public companies, our investment advisers estimate that between a third and a half of the entire endowment would need to be liquidated and replaced with separately managed accounts. Were we to guarantee a fossil fuel free endowment more broadly than the 200 companies, greater than half of the endowment would need to be liquidated.

In either scenario, the transition would result in significant transaction costs, a long-term decrease in the endowment’s performance, an increase in the endowment’s risk profile, and thus a loss in annual operating income for the college. Such a reduction in resources would affect critical college priorities, including financial aid, faculty and staff salaries, and support for academic programs. In short, divestment would potentially threaten core aspects of the college’s mission.

January 2014 - Read Full Remarks

Bowdoin College Former President Barry Mills

It is entirely inappropriate for us to say that our endowment should be the mechanism by which we choose winners and losers on political and social and moral movements.

April 2014 - Read Full Remarks

Tulane University President Emeritus Scott Cowen

In our view, the divestiture of fossil fuel companies in our endowment will not have any significant impact on mitigating global warming, especially in comparison to more meaningful actions that can be taken to address the myriad causes of climate change…Moreover, many fossil fuel companies are currently investing in alternative energy sources as a means to mitigate harm to the environment.

Rather than divestment, our strategy, consistent with the university’s mission, is to continue to invest in ideas and programs that offer the promise of making a significant and real difference.

April 2014 - Read Full Remarks

Colby College President Emeritus William Adams

I understand the strong feelings the students have about the risks of global warming. I have them too. What’s not clear is how this divestment movement will affect the issue of global warming.

June 2013 - Read Full Remarks

University of East Anglia Registrar & Secretary Brian Summers

More often than not, we find that the University is better able to make a positive impact through engagement, discussion and, indeed, the outputs of its academic endeavors. We adopt this approach rather than making public statements, because statements can risk disaffecting others and curtailing constructive dialogue, which is itself a cornerstone of successful academic discourse.

November 2013 - Read Full Remarks

Fort Lewis College Board of Directors

One concern with divestment is that when donors contribute to the FLC Foundation’s endowment, they are entrusting the Foundation to use their funds to improve both the quality of and access to a Fort Lewis College education for students. To use the endowment as leverage to try and force political or social change, regardless of how worthy the cause, could put the Foundation at odds with the fiduciary duty given to them by donors.

April 2014

McGill University Board of Governors

During the discussion, it was noted that a number of energy companies are actively engaged in research into and the production of alternate forms of energy, which suggests that investment in these companies may help to promote and encourage the use of alternate sources of energy.

May 2013 - Read Full Remarks

University of Oregon Board of Trustees

The Foundation carefully stewards the endowment to provide stable funding support for the students, faculty, and staff that make up the UO community. This support can be seen on campus through endowed professorships, scholarships, and study abroad programs, just to name a few.

Date Unlisted - Read Full Remarks

Reed College Board of Trustees

Some were animated principally by concern that the requested action would have a significant negative impact on the endowment. They stressed that Reed’s endowment is largely invested in funds whose strategies permit quick and untrammeled decision-making by fund managers. To these members, divesting from funds with carbon exposure would mean dissociating from managers carefully selected for the likelihood of high performance.

Others stressed that in light of the college’s continued use of fossil fuels, and similar reliance on fossil fuels by nearly all of the members of our community, to the degree such a gesture would purport to contribute to a solution, it would lack the integrity we all expect from the Reed community.

July 2014 - Read Full Remarks

Seattle University Chief Financial Officer Connie Kanter

Using endowment funds entrusted to us by donors for a purpose other than their original intent is an extraordinary step. As some participants in SSA’s recent forum noted, divestment from fossil fuels will neither impact the finances nor change the behavior of affected companies. We believe there are more effective ways to address climate change. For these reasons, we are not prepared to move forward on a feasibility study of divestment from fossil fuel companies.

April 2014 - Read Full Remarks

University of Rhode Island President Michael J. Smith

In addition, the energy sector represents a large portion of the global economy and equity market capitalization. Excluding this sector would represent a significant reduction in the Foundation’s potential investment opportunities.

March 2014 - Read Full Remarks

University of Vermont Finance and Investment Committee Member David Daigle

Our primary responsibility is to protect the endowment and my continuing fear is that this proposal would have a significant impact on the ability to balance the risks and rewards within the endowment by cutting out a substantial portion of the economy.

December 2013 - Read Full Remarks

Washington University in St. Louis Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton & Provost Holden Thorp

The most recent communication from the student organizers lays out several demands that we cannot and will not meet. However, there are steps we are going to take to address concerns that have been raised.

April 2014 - Read Full Remarks

Wellesley College President Kim Bottomly

The result of that examination was conclusive: the cost to Wellesley would be high and the economic impact on fossil fuels companies inconsequential.

March 2014 - Read Full Remarks

University of Wisconsin University Ad Hoc Committee on Fossil Fuel Use and Climate Change

Many individuals involved in the environmental movement at the University told us that they consider divestment either a red herring or a distraction from the more important and difficult behavioral changes we need to consider down the road.

February 2014 - Read Full Remarks

California Public Employees’ Retirement System (Calpers) Chief Executive Officer Anne Stausboll

Engagement is the first call of action and is the most effective form of communicating concerns with the companies in which we invest. That is why, when it comes to climate change and its risks, Calpers’ view is that the path to change lies in engaging energy companies, instead of divesting them. If we sell our shares then we lose our ability as shareowners to influence companies to act responsibly.

March 2015 - Read Full Remarks

California San Francisco’s Employees Retirement System Officer Brian Stansbury

If you go to some of the biggest assets in our portfolio, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, you see they are not just a fossil-fuel company. They are involved in solar, they are involved in natural gas. You can’t just turn off the spigot to fossil fuels and turn on something else. I do not see our portfolio without energy.

October 2013 - Read Full Remarks

California CalSTRS

In this case, divestment bears the risk of adversely affecting an investment portfolio and severs any chance to advance positive change through shareholder advocacy. …American dependency on fossil fuels dominates every facet of businesses both willing and unwilling to engage in alternative energy solutions. Without an alternative, the motivation to surrender an extremely lucrative and foundational endeavor complicates any incentive to change. Divestment in this situation is akin to asking a coffee shop to stop serving coffee.

August 2013 - Read Full Remarks

Massachusetts MACRS President Denis Devine

Every member of the Board has a fiduciary responsibility to his systems’ investments. With PRIT showing an annualized return of ten percent or better on funds invested in oil or gas by their investment managers, it would be a violation of their duty to tell their managers to remove fossil fuel equities from their fund.

September 2013 - Read Full Remarks

Massachusetts Former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank

Changing out of fossil fuels is important, but it doesn’t have the same moral problem. Sudan, South Africa and Iran, we were making moral cases. There were immoral regimes that were abusing people. Objecting to blatant violations of human rights is different than pushing for public policy change, even if a very worthy one.

May 2014 - Read Full Remarks

Michigan Executive Director at City of Ann Arbor Employees Retirement System Nancy Walker

There really aren’t any index funds that will exclude fossil fuels, at least at first investigation,” she said, noting the retirement system’s consultant took a look at the market and didn’t find any index funds that screen out fossil fuels. Walker said there could be “some fairly significant costs” associated with adopting a new investment strategy screening out fossil fuels.

October 2013 - Read Full Remarks

Oregon Oregon Treasurer Ted Wheeler

Divestment from fossil fuel stocks will not achieve the tangible results we want. Academic studies demonstrate that divestment actions, on their own, have no measurable effect on the value of targeted companies and do not change corporate behavior. The main problem with divestment is that when one party sells a stock in the open market, another party buys it. There is no guarantee that the new owners will be advocates for either responsible management strategies, or for reduced carbon emissions. The companies themselves are not impacted – top executives likely won’t even know that shares were traded.

June 2014 - Read Full Remarks

Vermont Vermont Treasurer Beth Pearce

I have concerns about the methodology…Divestment is a strategy that says ‘I’m walking away’ and somebody else is going to buy that share. I think the worst emission culprits are the folks we should be concentrating our efforts on.

October 2014 - Read Full Remarks

Washington Washington Treasurer James McIntire

Most of the investment board’s contributions are “externally and passively managed,” so it would be a “difficult and costly exercise to divest. But more importantly, once you sell your stock, you’ve lost your voice and any influence you had in the way the company is being managed.

September 2014 - Read Full Remarks

Swarthmore College Board of Managers

After long and deep discussion and debate, the Board decided not to modify its investment guidelines to allow for use of the endowment to meet social objectives. This decision effectively ratifies the Board’s September 2013 decision not to divest from fossil fuels, either on a full or partial basis.

It would be difficult, if not impossible, to replace our current investment managers with ones of similar quality, if we were only to invest in funds that were fossil fuel free. By having access to the best investment managers, the College has achieved excellent returns in a shifting landscape. If we were not able to work with these investment managers, it would cost the college between $10 and $20 million annually based on the past performance of our current managers. Our endowment is large but it is still finite. If returns were lower we would be facing difficult budget choices.

May 2015 - Read Full Remarks

Pomona College President David Oxtoby

Symbolic actions have their place. But at colleges and universities, our first goal is to educate students to be skeptical about simple claims and to weigh competing values. Then we encourage them to build on their values to make a difference in the world. That will be done most effectively in the area of climate change not by headline-grabbing divestment decisions at individual institutions, but by helping to build a coalition and elect public officials for whom climate change is a compelling and urgent issue.

Many of those involved in the divestment movement say quite candidly that they do not expect divestment (even by major universities with much larger endowments than our own, and recently by our Claremont Colleges neighbor Pitzer College) to have an effect on the policies of the companies involved.

September 2014 - Read Full Remarks

University of Edinburgh

We live in a world where nearly one in five of the global population are without access to electricity. Whilst we all wish to deliver their energy needs with clean energy supplies, the university sees energy access for the world’s poorest to be an equally high priority – in terms of their wellbeing – as the carbon content of that energy. The university believes there are reasonable energy alternatives to coal and oil from tar sands in most countries. However, it does not see fully developed energy alternatives at present to conventional oil and gas, and so we are not targeting these industries.

June 2015 - Read Full Remarks

Cornell University Professor Earth and Atmospheric Sciences professor Larry Brown

[The resolution to divest] undermines the most precious asset a university has in addressing any controversial issue: its reputation as an unbiased source of scientific knowledge.

[Divestment] only serves to reduce the incentive of the fossil fuel industry to engage with Cornell faculty in any meaningful way.

We all owe our current standard of living and likely our very existence to the inexpensive energy that the fossil fuel industry has provided over the past century.

March 2015 - Read Full Remarks

Cornell University President David J. Skorton

Our endowment has been built up over generations to advance the academic mission of the university, and we must resist, in almost all cases, the temptation to manage these precious funds to further social or political causes, no matter how worthy. I believe divestment in this case will be predominantly a symbolic gesture. Symbolism and thought leadership certainly have an important place in all universities. However, the potential financial risks to our campus do not support divestment at this time. The endowment’s central purpose must continue to be to provide resources essential to furthering our academic goals as well as the affordability and accessibility of our university.

February 2014 - Read Full Remarks

Bill Gates Bill Gates

I think the solution is investment…My concern is that I love the fact that students and people care about climate change, and I don’t want to make them think that if they get people to divest that they’ve solved climate change.

I don’t see a direct path between divesting and solving climate change. I think it’s wonderful that students care and now the Pope cares. But that energy of caring, I think you need to direct it towards something that solves the problem.

June 2015 - Read Full Remarks

Harvard University Professor Director of environmental economics program Robert Stavins

The concerns of the students are understandable but the message from the divestment movement is fundamentally misguided…We should be focusing on actions that will make a real difference.

June 2015 - Read Full Remarks

MIT Director of Earth Resources Laboratory Brad Hager

We need to apply some discrimination, and that’s what’s wrong with this divestment movement, it throws everything out rather than making thoughtful choices about what is good and what we should keep, and what we should get rid of.

June 2015 - Read Full Remarks

Stanford University Professor Economics professor and director of energy and sustainable development program Frank Wolak

These efforts are pure window dressing and, much to my surprise, the student groups are complicit in this deception

June 2015 - Read Full Remarks

Boston College Director of Public Affairs and university spokesperson Jack Dunn

[Divestment] would be done if there is a clear compelling case that shows a particular company is doing something unethical, we do not think that companies that are engaged in energy production are engaged in unethical conduct.

We need the energy [fossil fuel companies produce]. It’s what keeps the lights on in our classrooms and what heats our residence halls, it’s what enables us to come and go by car and plane at the beginning of each semester, there is not a viable alternative to the energy that is produced by energy companies. There is a practical reality that we have to be aware of.

March 2015 - Read Full Remarks

Swarthmore College Board of Managers

Divestment’s potential success as a moral response is limited-if not completely negated-so long as its advocates continue to turn on the lights, drive cars, and purchase manufactured goods, for it is these activities that constitute the true drivers of fossil fuel companies’ economic viability-their profits. It is important that we ourselves acknowledge that our consumption of energy makes us complicit in the threat to the planet and that it is in our hands to reduce our demand for it.

It is our collective judgment that the cost of divestment would far outweigh any potential benefit. If we thought divestment would change the behavior of fossil fuel companies, or galvanize public officials to do something about climate change, or reduce America’s reliance on fossil fuels, this would be a much tougher decision. We believe we have other, more effective means to achieve this objective.

September 2013 - Read Full Remarks

National Association of College and University Business Officers Director of research and policy at NACUBO Ken Redd

It’s that the school and their endowment managers have fiduciary responsibility not to divest. If they think divesting would hurt endowment performance, it’s their legal responsibility to say no. It’s not really a choice.

June 2015 - Read Full Remarks

Robert Gordon University (Scotland) RGU Principal and professor Ferdinand von Prondzynski

RGU has identified oil and gas as one of its strategic priorities. We are in an oil and gas region, and the industry is vital for the current and future health of the economy and society of the north-east of Scotland.

All institutions should support the responsible use of energy, but this is achieved most effectively through greater innovation and the availability of high value skills. Divesting from oil and gas shares could send the wrong message about this important agenda.

July 2015 - Read Full Remarks

University of Otago Vice-Chancellor Harlene Hayne

Divesting requires investing in the first place … I’d be very concerned about the fact that we would be making an announcement that has no teeth.

October 2015 - Read Full Remarks