As the Committee on Investments and Social Responsibility votes on fossil fuel divestment today, GU Fossil Free will continue its campaign in preparation for its meeting with the university’s board of directors in February.
The divestment proposal by GU Fossil Free calls for the university to divest its holdings from the 200 largest fossil fuel companies. The 12 voting members of CISR will vote to determine whether they will recommend the proposal to the board of directors.
CISR, which is made up of four students, three professors and five university administrators, votes on written proposals from Georgetown community members and makes recommendations on socially responsible investment to the university’s board of directors.
GU Fossil Free will be holding a rally today at Red Square at 9:15 a.m. to demonstrate student support for divestment before the committee votes between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m .
GU Fossil Free member Chloe Lazarus (COL ’16) said that she hopes the rally will convince CISR members to recognize divestment as a course of action that reflects the university’s Jesuit values.
“We are framing the [rally] as a marriage between the CISR and Georgetown’s values,” Lazarus said. “Georgetown holds its Catholic and Jesuit values highly and we believe divestment from these top 200 fossil fuel companies will make Georgetown follow its core principles.”
According to GU Fossil Free and CISR member Caroline James (COL ’16), the committee will most likely vote against divestment for fiduciary reasons. CISR has been working with GU Fossil Free to develop their proposal for almost two years. Other members of CISR declined to comment before the vote.
“I’m anticipating a ‘no’ vote with the exception of one or two ‘yes’s … which disappoints me,” James said. “Based on our dialogue with CISR so far … I think where they are feeling conflicted is in whether or not it’s moral to move so much money around, and if there is in any event the [risk of the] endowment being hurt if we were to divest.”
However, James said that most voting members in CISR are in agreement with GU Fossil Free’s reasons for divestment.
“It doesn’t seem to me that anyone doubts the moral implications of what we’re saying, being that investing in companies that are directly hurting many disadvantaged populations and destroying ecosystems around the world is a bad thing,” James said.
Approximately 10 percent of Georgetown’s endowment fund, which consists of $1.2 billion, is invested in fossil fuel companies. However, James expects a larger portion of the fund to be affected after divestment because many of the companies are in mutual funds with Georgetown, which would force the university to divest from the entirety of the funds. The university’s Investment Office also declined to comment before the vote. The Georgetown University Student Investment, a student group that manages over $500,000 of the university’s endowment, also declined to comment on the issue.
“Because of the way that commingled funds work, a lot of these funds are not simply invested directly in various companies. Rather, they are invested in larger funds that happen to include fossil fuel stock,” James said. “While I can’t give the exact number, it would be a much greater amount than 10 percent of the divestment.”
Despite the financial burden that divestment could place on the endowment, James said that GU Fossil Free has presented a list of alternatives to investing in fossil fuels.
“We very much do not think that divestment would be hurtful to the endowment. In fact, we think that it could be helpful because, with plummeting oil prices, the energy sector isn’t doing so hot lately.” James said. “In fact, a growing number of funds managers are now offering fossil free funds. So it would not at all be impossible to move those funds around.”
Center for the Environment Director Edward Barrows stressed the urgency of divesting from fossil fuel companies and investing in alternative energy.
“I personally think [that] humanity should move to investing much more in renewable, green energy sources as soon as possible, and move away from using polluting fossil fuels,” Barrows said. “Humans now know better and should stop shooting ourselves in our feet by using harmful fossil fuels.”
Barrows added that student groups should initiate dialogue with the administration to move towards environmental sustainability.
“Student discussions with the Georgetown administration should help the university to become greener,” Barrows said.
James said that she feels more optimistic about GU Fossil Free’s meeting with the Board of Directors in February than she does about its relationship with CISR. GU Fossil Free met with University President John J. DeGioia Nov. 25 to discuss its mission and discuss CISR’s vote, which was originally scheduled for the end of the academic year. Before the November meeting, DeGioia met with CISR Chair and Associate Dean for Transnational Programs Jim Feinerman to encourage an earlier vote and succeeded.
“I don’t think that it will matter to whether or not we get a ‘no’ [from CISR], because I think that both President DeGioia and many members of the board of directors are aware of the fact that divestment has swept the nation pretty quickly considering that it was one that only started a couple of years ago,” James said.
18 universities worldwide, including Stanford University, Pitzer College and University of Glasgow have committed to divestment.
James added that the Board of Directors may be more interested in improving the university’s image as an environmentally conscious school, following the footsteps of other universities in the country. She cited the divestment attempts at Harvard University, which failed after the university refused to withdraw investment from fossil fuel companies and subsequently invested $79.5 million into fossil fuel companies, which has led to heavy media coverage.
“I don’t think that [Georgetown will face the] publicity difficulties that Harvard has encountered,” James said.“If we were to present this to the board, they wouldn’t so much be thinking about what CISR’s recommendation was, but rather how Georgetown would be portrayed, and how it would be very much praised, especially in its Catholic identity.”
Recently, the Online Schools Center ranked Georgetown at number 29 on its list of the top 50 greenest schools in the country, which evaluates universities on criteria including sustainability, clean energy, recycling and student programs focused in environmental conservation.
In 2012, President DeGioia pledged to cut the university’s carbon footprint in half by 2020 through the conversion from fossil fuels to renewable energy on campus.
However, Lazarus said that in order to qualify as a green school, Georgetown must divest from fossil fuel companies.
“Even though Georgetown has committed to reducing its carbon footprint on campus through green energy initiatives, Georgetown is still investing in the same companies and fuels it is moving away from,” Lazarus said. “Divestment would act as the next step, following the series of environmental initiatives President DeGioia has supported and Georgetown’s foundational principles value.”
Regardless of the outcome of the CISR vote, GU Fossil Free will continue to campaign for the university to divest.
“Even if we were to get a ‘no’, GU Fossil Free’s campaign would be proceeding more strongly than ever,” James said. “We’ll rally and petition and point out the fact that CISR, whose job in title literally includes social responsibility, will have only satisfied the investments part of their title and not the social responsibility part, so we’ll definitely be talking about that if the ‘no’ vote happens.”
Correction: The original article stated that nine universities worldwide have committed to divestment. In fact, 18 universities have done so.