On June 25, 2013, President Barack Obama spoke from the steps of New North and announced a major plan to combat climate change.
Obama’s remarks emphasized the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to invest and use renewable energy and to create a future that is marked by a cleaner, safer and more stable environment for the upcoming generations.
This, in light of an increasingly dire environmental landscape, was lauded as a call for serious introspection, re-evaluation and action on the part of the students of Georgetown University and the American people they represented.
Several months after a proposal was submitted to the Committee on Investments and Social Responsibility by the on-campus student group, GU Fossil Free, CISR is now scheduled to vote on the divestment of the university’s endowment from fossil fuels this morning.
Around the time of Obama’s visit to campus, University President John J. DeGioia commented that Georgetown’s commitment to solving the climate problem rendered its campus a fitting location to unveil the plan.
Likewise, Georgetown’s Environment Initiative, which received a gift of $20 million to conduct interdisciplinary research on the environment, bolstered Georgetown’s appearance as an environmentally friendly university and a leader among its peer institutions in the field of conservation.
That being said, a decision from CISR not to divest would make Georgetown one of the first institutions to vote no and would likely set a tone for divestment decisions in the future. In truth, such an outcome would ultimately indicate that Georgetown has contracted a case of civic responsibility amnesia.
Georgetown’s environmentally friendly image aside, a decision not to divest is sure to clash with the core Jesuit values that define the unique insight that both students and faculty apply to higher education and its value.
Historically, Georgetown prides itself on the Jesuit principles that invite students to reflect, to serve by being men and women for others and to fight for social justice. These tenets that the university community strives to embody both inside and outside the classroom would be directly in conflict with a decision to decline divestment.
The somber fact that Georgetown’s endowment, last stated to be $1.2 billion at the end of 2013, pales in comparison to most other universities’ endowments such as Yale’s, which was as high as $23.9 billion in 2014, gives context to university officials’ concerns of divestment.
However, Georgetown is a university that is known for thriving in spite of a smaller endowment
Furthermore, it has always prided itself on its reputation as a principled and morally concerned community, eschewing monetary greed.
Especially considering Georgetown’s strong Jesuit tradition, one should think the university would be influenced to remain “poor” but principled, rather than be perceived as materialistic.
Not divesting would tremendously mar this image of Georgetown and demonstrate that administrators have found themselves succumbing to pressures that are not in line with Georgetown’s identity.
Moreover, recent news has made it increasingly clear that now is the crucial time to divest. With oil prices dropping as low as $49 per barrel, it is apparent that fossil fuels are a volatile market and are currently a subpar investment.
Georgetown would likely be better served by investing in other markets that are not only more stable but also perpetuate Georgetown’s commitment to social justice.
There remains for Georgetown a clear choice — divest or disappoint.