Stanford Professors Push for Fossil Fuel Divestment

The university divestment movement proved to be even more potent on Sunday, January 11, when 300 Stanford University professors called on the school’s president and board of trustees to fully divest from fossil fuel companies.

In a letter released to the Guardian, professors urge the university to divest from all fossil fuel companies, including oil and natural gas companies. While Stanford made headway into the fight for divestment last May by shutting down all direct investments to coal mining companies, the university proceeded to invest in three oil and natural gas companies months later.

The signers include prominent figures on Stanford’s faculty, including Nobel laureates and this year’s Fields Medal winner, mathematician Maryam Mizarkhani. The action represents a big step in the campus divestment movement, which up to this point has been primarily dominated by students.

The letter cites statistics regarding carbon output by fossil fuel companies, stating that the university’s current investments in oil and natural gas companies are funding double the amount of carbon output that is acceptable to stay within a two-degree global temperature increase. Anything above two degrees, according to the letter, means “raising atmospheric carbon dioxide to cataclysmic levels.”

One of the organizers of the letter, English professor Elizabeth Tallent, believes that the campaign is a way of living out what she teaches in a real way.

“I think if you want what you do to matter, and not only for a moment in the classroom, you think: how can students make use of this in 10 years or 20 years?” she said. “If you are imagining the future of youth in 20 years, then you run into the problem of what the world will look like.”

The letter also addresses the tie between the university’s ideals, taught in classrooms, and what their actions convey regarding fossil fuel investment. “If a university seeks to educate extraordinary youth so they may achieve the brightest possible future, what does it mean for that university simultaneously to invest in the destruction of that future?” it said. “Given that the university has signaled its awareness of the dangers posed by fossil fuels, what are the implications of Stanford’s making only a partial confrontation with this danger?”

Boston College has faced a similar sentiment among the student population as of recently. When students responded to the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner with a die-in demonstration in December and were threatened with disciplinary action by the administration, many students felt a disconnect between the Jesuit ideals of standing up for injustice and the university’s disapproval of student actions.

Image courtesy of Climate Justice at Boston College / Facebook

Image courtesy of Climate Justice at Boston College / Facebook

Erin Sutton, A&S ’16, an active member of Climate Justice at Boston College ([email protected]), says that faculty involvement in the divestment movement is growing in the city of Boston. On February 12, faculty from several different Boston-area schools will come together for a panel event at Boston University. The event coincides with Global Divestment Day, which takes place on February 13.

Sutton expressed that faculty involvement at Boston College has been limited. “Though we have conversations with faculty often, and they express agreement and support concerning divestment and climate justice issues, they are often fearful about being outspoken,” she said.

Sutton attributes this to the fact that the university has made a habit of giving tenure to fewer and fewer faculty in the past few years. With more professors facing an evaluation process at the end of a 2-3 year contract, fewer are willing to speak up and possibly upset the administration. According to Sutton, “BC has a history of being restrictive on professors’ promotion of activism on campus.”

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