TCA extends pledge to parents, alumni to withhold university donations until divestment

Student climate activists march down College Avenue towards Davis Square on Sept. 20, 2019. Connor Dale / The Tufts Daily

Tufts Climate Action (TCA) is urging current Tufts seniors, alumni and parents to withhold donations to Tufts until the university divests from fossil fuels in a pledge posted on Facebook. The petition encourages alumni and parents to withhold donations or to donate only to Tufts’ Sustainability Fund.

Celia Bottger, an organizer on TCA, said the original pledge to withhold donations that was created in 2012 received many alumni responses when the campaign for divestment was just beginning. 

“We thought it would be a really great tactic to pressure the administration to have another pledge that contributes to the names that are already on the list, but obviously divestment has still not happened at Tufts and still needs to, and a lot of people support it,” she said. “We just want to continue showing the administration that current students and alumni still support divestment and won’t donate until the administration divests.” 

According to Bottger, a senior, the alumni and parent pledge has 160 responses as of Oct. 3 and the student petition, which calls on students to support divestment campaign, has over 400 signatures

Temple Miller-Hodgkin, a member of TCA, said the pledge is in response to a resolution passed by the Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate last semester. The resolution called for a carbon-neutral endowment and asked for an administrative response by October to discuss whether or not Tufts would divest from fossil fuels and the reasons for the choice.

According to Miller-Hodgkin, a sophomore, the motivation to redraft the earlier pledge came from a lack of administrative response to the resolution. He worked with Bottger to expand the pledge’s outreach. 

In an Oct. 7 letter responding to TCU Senate Resolution 19–7, however, Executive Vice President Michael Howard said that the university would keep its investments in the fossil fuel industry.

Howard particularly cited the Divestment Working Group, which in 2014 released a report which said, given that less than 2% of the university’s assets were invested in fossil fuels and the great financial impact divestment would have on the university’s endowment, divestment would not be a prudent course for the university.

“While this remains the university’s official position on divestment, the Investment Committee of the Board of Trustees is aware of continued interest in the issue and is open to establishing a process to receive input and deliberate on this and similar topics,” Howard wrote, adding that University President Anthony Monaco had tasked him with creating such mechanisms.

The letter makes no mention of what specific processes that Howard or the board would assume.

Grace Anderson, an organizer of TCA, said becoming carbon-neutral is the first step toward complete divestment from fossil fuels. She explained carbon-neutrality as a shared investment in fossil fuels and areas such as sustainable energy. She said that a main worry with agreeing to a carbon-neutral endowment is that going forward, the administration may not be open to complete divestment.

Anderson, a sophomore, said the response from alumni thus far has been positive, especially coming from recent Tufts graduates. TCA received messages from alumni asking how they can help and support TCA

Miller-Hodgkin said the club wants to sit down with an administrative member or faculty by the end of the semester to discuss the university’s plans and how it can work with TCA.

“That’s really the only way forward,” Miller-Hodgkin said. “It’s not just going to be, ‘Oh, we saw this petition we’re just going to divest 100% right now.’ We really have to make them come to the table and actually talk to us to get it past them.”

Patrick Collins, executive director of public relations at Tufts University, said in an email that although the impact of the pledge on alumni and others involved is unclear at the moment, the office of the university’s executive vice president plans to arrange a meeting with TCA. 

According to Bottger, the divestment campaign is another way to show the Tufts administration that the entire Tufts community supports divestment, not just the current undergraduate student population. 

Bottger said going forward, TCA plans to have actions every Friday in front of Ballou Hall. Members plan to make a quick speech before giving the administration a list of names of new people who signed the pledge at each event. TCA is also planning future action for parents’ weekend.

“I hope that [the campaign] makes the Board of Trustees realize that their investments have political consequences and where they choose to invest the money that has been donated or paid to by Tufts students, Tufts parents, Tufts alumni, that we care where that money goes,” Bottger said. “Even though they control the investment, it’s not okay that they’re invested in fossil fuels and ultimately they’re making a political statement by supporting the fossil fuel industry.”


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