GU Fossil Free submitted an open letter signed by 97 faculty members calling for the university to divest from the top 200 fossil fuel companies to the Office of the President on Wednesday.
The letter, which was released on GU Fossil Free’s website, circulated among faculty last Wednesday after it was drafted by assistant professor of English Nathan Hensley. At press time, it has amassed 97 signatories, including professors, lecturers and program directors such as Director of the Program for Justice and Peace Randall Amster, Kathleen Scanlon Endowed Chair in Values Based Health Care Laura Anderko and Chair of the Department of Anthropology Denise Brennan.
The faculty letter comes after months of negotiations between GU Fossil Free, the Committee for Investments and Social Responsibility and the university’s board of directors. In January, CISR rejected GU Fossil Free’s divestment proposal and recommended an alternative plan of targeted divestment. Recently, GU Fossil Free met with the newly formed working group for divestment under the board of directors to discuss its proposal. The board of directors will vote on the divestment proposal in June.
In an email to The Hoya, Hensley said that he decided to write the letter to help push the divestment movement forward on campus.
“There’s a vast and gathering movement for divestment happening across the world,” Hensley said. “The motivation [behind the letter] was to bring our own practice here at Georgetown in line with a growing change in the common sense that says this is a social justice problem and it’s an urgent one.”
Hensley also said that he hopes the support for divestment from academics will convince the university to recognize it as a viable option.
“[The letter] shows that divestment is urgently supported by a group of people who have dedicated their entire careers – in many cases incredibly distinguished ones – to articulating the relationship between knowledge and justice and who care deeply about the integrity of this institution,” Hensley wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Several other universities have also seen faculty support for divestment. In April 2014, approximately 100 professors at Harvard University signed an open letter to the university in support of fossil fuel divestment. However, Harvard has continued to reject divestment initiatives.
According to GU Fossil Free member Caroline James (COL ’16), GU Fossil Free has been in contact with faculty throughout the past year to gather support for divestment. It started a separate faculty petition one year ago, which has gathered approximately 120 signatures to date.
“It’s been in the back of our minds for a while. … We thought the week of Earth Day would be a relevant time [to release the letter] especially to lead up to the [board of directors’] vote [on divestment] in June,” James said.
University President John J. DeGioia’s Chief of Staff Joe Ferrara said that the letter adds an additional perspective to the case for divestment, of which the Office of the President has been aware for the past year.
“We view this as sort of another piece of the puzzle as we review this issue in trying to take in all the different perspectives and so we now have some of our faculty who are weighing in … their perspectives,” Ferrara said.
Director of the Center for the Environment Edward Barrows, who signed the letter individually, said that he signed because of the gravity of environmental issues caused by fossil fuels.
“I signed because global change, including climate change and the biodiversity crisis, is now the largest problem of humanity,” Barrows said. “All of us should do what we can to help solve the problem.”
Barrows said that he hopes the letter will convince the university not only to divest but also to transition toward using alternative energy.
“I hope that the letter would help [Georgetown] to decide to divest from fossil fuel companies and also move toward using sun and wind power as much as possible as soon as possible,” Barrows said.
Director of the Mortara Center Kathleen McNamara, who also signed the letter, said that divestment should be the university’s next step in promoting sustainability.
“I signed the letter in support of fossil fuel divestment because I want a healthy planet,” McNamara wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Fighting climate change requires action on all fronts. … We Hoyas need to divest from fossil fuel companies that are at the center of climate change.”
Chair of the Department of Chemistry YuYe Tong, who also signed the letter, said that from a scientific perspective, it is important to recognize fossil fuels as a factor behind climate change.
“It’s just common sense. Most scientists including myself believe that carbon emission is the main reason for climate change and global warming, so this is one way that you can push society to realize that this is a very urgent issue for us and the whole planet,” Tong said.
However, Tong said that he does not expect the university to completely divest from the top 200 fossil fuel companies immediately, reflecting CISR’s recommendation for targeted divestment.
“I don’t think that it is reasonable and realistically doable to divest [completely and] immediately but it would be good for Georgetown to start thinking about a strategy to do so over a reasonable period of time,” Tong said.
In addition, Tong noted that some of the larger fossil fuel companies invest in research for alternative energy.
“Actually, some of [the top 200 fossil fuel companies] invest pretty heavily in alternative energy research and development right now,” Tong said. “Whether this is driven by their true care about the environment or by a political posture … is not really important. What is important is the investment in alternative energy research and development [that] can lead to economically viable clean, alternative energy.”
Correction: An earlier version of the article stated that the letter had circulated among faculty members for months. Faculty began signing it on Wednesday, April 15.