)Posted by Doug Struck March 10, 2014 09:13 PM
By Doug Struck
Students at Tufts University unfurled protest banners over the library roof last month and have urged alumni to stop writing checks as they continue to protest the university’s refusal to sell its fossil fuel stocks.
“Getting a ‘no’ was one of the best things that happened,” said Evan Bell, 21, a junior physics major, and one of the leaders of the Tufts divestment campaign. “We are no longer waiting for them, no longer asking politely. Now we can organize the alumni and faculty to really push this forward.”
The students say they were invigorated– rather that discouraged– by the announcementlast month from University President Tony Monaco that Tufts would not shed the oil, coal and gas stocks in its portfolio. Such divestment could cost the university $75 million in lost income, he said.
Monaco’s statement came after 10 months of consideration by a trustee-led committee that included administrators, faculty and students. The committee last month recommended against divestment, and instead proposed the university take steps toward sustainable operations and establish a “sustainability fund.” Such a fund would allow Tufts to invest some of its endowment in companies that do not increase greenhouse gas emissions. It would be “a statement of the direction in which we would like to see the university move eventually and to test the feasibility of this kind of investment,” according to Monaco.
Bell and others say they were not particularly surprised by the committee’s outcome. “It was pretty clear from the outcome that most of the people involved in the committee were against divestment,” Bell said.
“I think we were hopeful the committee would be thorough and open to divestment,” said Shira Rascoe, 22, an environmental studies and political science major, and another member of the campaign. “But in the end it was pretty clear that Tufts divestment wasn’t really being considered.”
The students say they were restrained while the committee was meeting, but no longer. The Tufts campaign mirrors those at Harvard, Boston College, Boston University, Brandeis University, MIT, Northeastern University, and
other colleges in the state and around the country. No large universities in Massachusetts have agreed to cut the fossil fuel companies, which are often enormously profitable, from their investment portfolios.
Rascoe said the students do not accept the conclusion that Tufts would suffer from divestment. There are many funds in which the university could invest that already direct investments to sustainable corporations. And Rascoe said other financial experts believe there are ways to invest in companies that do not produce carbon pollution without losing profits.
On Feb. 27, students unfurled large banners from the roof of Tisch Library saying “Rejection Denied.” Now the campaigners are asking for support from the faculty and are pursuing a campaign to persuade alumni not to contribute to the university until it divests from stocks of companies that are aggravating climate change.
“We are going to escalate,” said Rascoe. “The Board of Trustees has failed the climate test. We were ashamed, honestly.”
Monaco drew a cost distinction between the divestment of carbon-holding companies and the university’s 1989 decision to divest its holdings in South Africa. “The financial impact on the endowment was small,” he said of the Tufts South Africa move, then proclaimed as a moral line drawn against apartheid.
Kim Thurler, director of public relations at Tufts, said, “We know this is an issue that people feel strongly about and have various opinions about. We expect our students to be actively engaged in things they care about. So it’s not a surprise or concern. But we hope the community will engage on things we are moving forward on, like the sustainability fund.”
She added, referring to Monaco’s statement, “Tufts right now will not move forward with divestment. It did not make financial sense.”
(Photo: Tufts student Shira Rascoe. Photo by Doug Struck)