Cambridge, MA – Graduates, parents, alums, and community supporters from twenty universities and schools across the country are now diverting their donations to the Multi-School Fossil Free Divestment Fund, calling for their alma maters to divest their endowments from the fossil fuel industry. As the Class of 2015 joins the ranks of alums, they are soon to receive their first request to “give back,” if they have not already in the form of a class gift. Many graduates are instead choosing to give to the alternative Divestment Fund, indicating that they believe in their university, yet are convinced that to be a responsible institution in the twenty-first century means moving away from supporting the fossil fuel industry.
Boston College graduate David Corbie says he encouraged friends and classmates to give to the Fund as their senior class gift, in the hope that they can “encourage our school to stand up for climate justice.” The Fund is a collaboration between divestment campaigns at 21 universities & schools, including Stanford, MIT, Reed College and Dartmouth College. Corbie and his classmates’, parents’ and other alums’ gifts will be held and invested by the Fund until each respective university commits to:
- Immediately freeze any new investment in fossil fuel companies and
- Divesting within five years from current holdings of fossil fuel companies.
Three schools have joined the fund just in time for graduation: the University of Rhode Island, Allegheny College and St Paul’s School, the first high school in the nation to begin using the escrow fund tactic. This follows on the heels of the George School, in Newtown, PA, becoming the first private high school to make a divestment commitment. Concerned alums have come together as Divest SPS, a campaign asking supporters of the prestigious New England boarding school to divert their donations until the school divests its $552 million endowment from fossil fuels. Alums Wick Beavers, Chris Bartle and Nat Wheelwright wrote recently that the “SPS endowment must be managed prudently for the long-term benefit of the school… increasingly, fossil fuel investments are being scrutinized on just this head.” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse has also joined the group as a signatory to the letter to the trustees.
Alumni at the University of Rhode Island are thinking similarly, calling on the university to live up to its motto Think Big—We Do. “What’s the use of training students in climate mitigation and adaptation strategies while at the same time investing in the very industry that is wreaking havoc around the globe?” asks Marie Schopac, a member of Fossil Free RI. The university’s lack of leadership on divestment to date led to the campaign’s escalation by joining the Fund. Ron Creamer, lawyer, URI alum and Fossil Free RI member, scrutinized the rules and regulations of the Fund prior to the University of Rhode Island joining the fund, concluding that it is “well-organized and… provid[es] an alternative for alums to invest their funds in a way that may force schools to review their policies on investing in fossil fuel companies.”
While recent graduates are not often large donors, the recruitment of their support is powerful, given the importance of percentage of senior class and alumni giving to national college rankings. The threat of significant numbers of diverted donations is also accompanied by the risk of donations not reaching the school at all: donations earmarked for institutions that do not divest from fossil fuel companies by the end of 2017 will go to participating schools that will have divested. “Money donated acts as a financial carrot, but if universities continue to support the rogue fossil fuel industry, those donations turn into a stick” says Chris Nidel, an MIT alum. In this way the Fund creates competition between its targeted schools, pushing for action at a level commensurate with the urgency and magnitude of the deepening climate crisis.