Editorial: Tufts must divest to balance environmental, fiduciary responsibility

In an age of Greta Thunberg protests and Jane Fonda’s arrest, the effects of climate change have become widely known and are the topics of everyday conversation and classroom discussion. The global push to reduce carbon emissions and plastic waste is stronger than ever, encouraging individuals, universities and even nations to contemplate how their money impacts our futures. Naturally, this shift has led Tufts student groups, most notably Tufts Climate Action (TCA), to follow the suit of several other academic institutions to protest for the divestment of university assets in fossil fuels. If Tufts were to divest, the university would completely liquidate stocks, bonds and other income-generating investments in the fossil fuel sector in an attempt to rid itself of the connection to these environmentally destructive megacorporations. Divestment would end the ‘social license to operate,’ which these corrupt firms use to maintain a facade of ethics and continue generating profits. Given the capitalist structure of American business, the only way to truly push for an end to immoral business practices is to divest — exactly what student activists on campus are pushing for. 

Tufts students have demonstrated a continuous commitment to this cause. In 2013, Tufts Divest for Our Future, a student-run organization, presented a divestment proposal to the Investment Committee of the Board of Trustees. University President Anthony Monaco subsequently established the Tufts Divestment Working Group, which investigated the possibility and feasibility of divestment. The university supported three recommendations from this group, which included refraining from divestment because of “significant anticipated negative impact on Tufts’ endowment” with an estimated loss of at least $75 million in market value over five years, according to a statement by Monaco. A Sustainability Fund was also created as part of the university endowment, used to support sustainability programs and research. The university lastly exerted their wish to pursue “other courses of action to address climate change.”  

Tufts alumni have also pressured the administration on divestment. A 17-person cosigned op-ed appeared in the Daily in 2013, urging students to support a referendum for the university to stop investing in oil, coal and gas companies. In 2015, 322 alumni signed a pledge to completely withhold donations to the Tufts Endowment Fund until the university commits to divest from the top 200 publicly-traded fossil fuel companies. 

Currently, divestment initiatives continue, still met with tension from the university. The current TCA pledge requesting immediate divestment currently has 160 alumni and parent replies and over 400 student signatures, and Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate recently passed a pro-divestment resolution. Every week TCA efforts continue, as they plan an ‘action’ — calling for divestment — each Friday in front of Ballou Hall, inscribing statements on the pavement such as: “How can Tufts say that they are invested in our futures when they are investing against it?” The group wishes to meet with a member of the administration to discuss divestment, and according to Patrick Collins, Tufts’ executive director of public relations, the office of Tufts’ executive vice president intends to meet with the organization.

However, the university’s administration today still fails to properly respond to these calls for action and must shift its priorities to achieve complete divestment. In response to the TCU Senate resolution, Executive Vice President Michael Howard stated that the university would continue to invest in fossil fuels, clearly illustrating a disconnect between students and administration. Additionally, the Committee of the Board of Trustees recognized interest in this problem and is open to creating a process in which to discuss these topics, but they have failed to take any immediate steps with both their words and actions. While a bountiful endowment allows for greater financial aid, more research funding and distinguished speaker forums, these responses indicate Tufts will only ever forgo its immoral investments once they are deemed unprofitable.

Thus, unlike many other colleges, Tufts’ priorities remain rooted in financial gains rather than safety, health and science. While it seems fair that Tufts is concerned about losing investment returns, Unity College, the first U.S. college to divest, reported that its fossil fuel-free portfolio has “met or exceeded” market benchmarks. Most recently, the University of California system celebrated a $13.4 billion endowment and $70 billion pension fund divestment from fossil fuels, a landmark event following seven years of protest from their student bodies. This underscores Tufts’ ability to maintain its fiduciary responsibility while practicing what it preaches in its investments. These two goals are not conflicting — they can coexist if the proper planning and steps are taken to integrate the values of sustainability.

Ultimately, the divestment movement is vital for the future of our university and the future of the earth and humanity; the risks of continuing to burn fossil fuels, pollute our earth and further contribute to climate change far exceed the risk of temporary financial loss. We urge all members of the Tufts community — including alumni, parents, faculty, staff and students alike — to support divestment by signing the TCA petition for divestment, participating in Friday ‘actions’ and spreading awareness about the economic power we wield to address the climate crisis; it is only through collective effort that we can force this crucial change.