Tufts Climate Action calls for fossil fuel divestment outside Board of Trustees meeting

Members of the Tufts Climate Action protest the university's investment in fossil fuels during a Board of Trustees meeting outside Ballou Hall on Nov. 7. Nicholas Pfosi / The Tufts Daily

Student members of Tufts Climate Action (TCA) gathered outside Ballou Hall during a Board of Trustees meeting on Saturday afternoon to protest Tufts’ investments in fossil fuels.

The group’s primary goals were to meet members of the Board of Trustees as they left the building and to distribute letters explaining their cause, according to TCA member Shana Gallagher.

Gallagher, a junior, said the protest’s primary purpose was not to raise public awareness for divestment, but rather to convey TCA’s divestment message to the trustees.

“The fact is that people are in [the meeting] making important decisions about the role of our university in society, and they won’t even let students have a say in what the message our institution sends out will be,” she said.

TCA member Henry Jacqz echoed Gallagher, saying that direct contact with the trustees was important for the cause.

“[Tufts] administration, like many colleges, isolates the Board [of Trustees] from the student community’s concerns, so direct contact is the best way to make sure they know divestment is still an important issue to us,” Jacqz, a junior, said.

In the letter that TCA members distributed to the trustees, the group demanded that the board divest the university’s endowment from the fossil fuel industry.

“We demand that the board thoroughly consider fossil fuel divestment as the most powerful statement our institution of higher learning can make towards in confronting the climate crisis,” the letter read.

In the letter, TCA added that it is their members’ sense of justice that pushes them to urge for divestment.

“Today, we stand outside your board meeting to insist that, as a Trustee of this university, it is not only a moral imperative but also your fiduciary responsibility to divest our endowment from fossil fuels,” the letter read.

TCA members held posters that read “Time is running out — divest now” and “Tufts invests $70 million in fossil fuels,” prompting prospective students and their parents who were passing by to ask about TCA’s cause.

“It’s definitely not the only avenue to helping the climate crisis, but as far as what we can accomplish as students while still being students, putting pressure on our institution to divest is extremely important,” Gallagher said to a passing parent.

Another one of TCA’s signs referenced the Talloires Declaration, a document promoting civic responsibility in colleges and universities, which was authored by Tufts in 2005 and signed by many other educational institutions.

The declaration states that “universities have the responsibility to foster in faculty, staff and students a sense of social responsibility and a commitment to the social good” — a claim that Gallagher believes is undermined by Tufts’ refusal to divest.

The demonstration follows TCA’s Oct. 5 meeting with some members of the Board of Trustees that followed TCA’s three-day sit-in that took place in University President Anthony Monaco’s office last April, after which many of their members were put on probation.

Gallagher said that she and other TCA members wanted their Saturday protest to be less disruptive than their past actions.

“We wanted this demonstration to be less disruptive and more cooperative,” she said. “We want to have a role of informing the trustees and encourage them to take leadership on this issue.”

She added that TCA members also feared that if they chose to make their demonstration more public by talking about the protest on social media, the administration might have moved the meeting.

Gallagher said she informed the trustees of the TCA action last Tuesday, days before the protest. In a Nov. 3 email sent to Board of Trustees chairman Peter DolanGallagher wrote that the TCA “would like to have a cooperative, non-disruptive presence outside of the board meeting in order to illustrate [their] commitment to climate change solutions.”

She asked Dolan to inform them of the time and place of the meeting and extended an invitation for board members to meet with TCA for a conversation before the meeting. 

In an email response to TCA, Dolan refused to meet, saying that “no further meetings [between the Board and TCA] were discussed or planned in conjunction with any Board meeting.”

He wrote that he and the other trustees who had met with TCA on Oct. 5 intended “to inform [the rest of the] trustees of [their] meeting and share the next step that we agreed to in the meeting.”

This “next step” refers to the formation of a working group in the Provost’s Office to plan a symposium on climate change and divestment from fossil fuels.

“The university and the trustees remain very committed to our significant sustainability initiatives and to taking actions that balance our multiple objectives with actions that can make a meaningful difference in addressing climate change,” Dolan wrote.

Dolan’s email did not include any information about the time or place of the meeting, so TCA had to find details about the Board’s meeting through other means, according to Gallagher.

She said TCA wanted to have a presence because they did not trust Dolan’s “non-committal” promise to represent TCA’s interests at the meeting.

“For the most part they use appeasement tactics…and it’s not going to work,” she said. “Climate change is too serious.”

Dolan could not be reached for comment as of press time.  

Gallagher said the university’s unwillingness to compromise with TCA would only lead to more extreme demonstration tactics from the group.

“Their unwillingness to allow [TCA] to do what we asked for — not even to sit in on the meeting but just to meet with some of the trustees before or after — is indicative that only bold action and aggressive measures will lead to anything productive,” she said.

The TCA members were ultimately only able to distribute their letter to a few of the trustees — including Bruce Grossman (LA ’85), who sits on the board‘s investment committee — since not all of the members left the building after the meeting. Not all members who left the building agreed to take the letters. 

Before leaving Ballou, Jacqz told the police officer guarding the door to the building to let the rest of the trustees know that “they can come out now.”


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