Board Rejects Student Divestment Proposals
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The Board of Trustees told Oberlin Fossil Fuel Divestment and Students for a Free Palestine that it will not implement their proposals to reduce or halt College investments in controversial companies.
Board of Trustees Chair Clyde McGregor, OC ’74, told the five members of the Fossil Fuel Divestment group — College junior Ellie Lezak, double-degree junior Hayden Arp, College junior Jasper Clarkberg, College sophomore Naomi Roswell and Stephen Lezak, OC ’15 — last Thursday that the College currently does not invest in the 12 companies that students identified as the top greenhouse gas emitters.
“The power of divestment lies not in the economic impacts it has on target companies, but in the political statement of an impassioned and public withdrawal from the fossil fuel industry,” said members of Oberlin Fossil Fuel Divestment in a statement. “The Board’s statement was passive, private and did not condemn the actions of the companies in question.”
Both groups submitted proposals through Student Senate last year. They asked the College to reduce its investments in a number of companies that either contribute the most to greenhouse emissions or benefit from Israel’s occupation of Palestine. The Board of Trustees has not publicized these announcements, but has been in direct correspondence with representatives from both groups.
“The Board will examine ways in which the College can continue to advance measures to ensure that the College retains its leadership in environmental sustainability,” said McGregor in an email to Oberlin Fossil Fuel Divestment.
The group said it is disappointed that the Board refused to promise to refrain from investments in the companies, adding that the trustees missed an opportunity to make a stronger statement by not placing a moratorium on future investments.
“While we’re certainly pleased to know that Oberlin does not currently hold direct investments in the 12 companies outlined in our proposal, this statement holds little weight if we could be reinvested in them tomorrow,” said the Fossil Fuel Divestment group in an email to the Review.
The group’s representatives said their next task is to make the Board commit to a policy for future investments in controversial companies.
While the Fossil Fuel Divestment group was comforted that their targeted companies were not currently receiving College money, SFP was not given the same reassurance. SFP’s proposed divestments were not passed because they failed to provide proof that the student body was united on the issue, according to Wyatt Kroopf, SFP spokesperson and College senior.
Kroopf said he was surprised the Board decided to label SFP’s proposal as divisive, because the language was backed by 33 organizations, including co-ops, publications and a few academic departments.
“They claim it’s a divisive issue, which is frustrating for us because we’ve done work to try to demonstrate that there’s a united support on campus,” Kroopf said. “It’s frustrating because saying this issue is divisive is used really frequently as a way to normalize the Israeli occupation.”
Kroopf added that he also questions the effectiveness of submitting divestment proposals to the Board — a process that SFP began in 2013.
“It’s weird because the Board doesn’t have any clear guidelines for what the next steps would be,” Kroopf said. “It doesn’t feel like [the trustees] hope to have future discussions; they just say their decision has passed.”
SFP and the Fossil Fuel Divestment group members shared the sentiment that the Board lacks transparency and that the decision-making process seems unnecessarily lengthy. SFP said it took seven months for the Board to respond to its divestment proposal, and Fossil Fuel Divestment representatives said they were “confused that such surface-level endowment information took six months to make it back to us.”
In an update on The Source, McGregor apologized for the delays.
“Although these responses have now been issued, the Board sincerely regrets the time that this has taken,” McGregor wrote. “Developing responses that accurately represent the consensus position of the Board proved to demand considerable time and effort.”
SFP said it has not yet decided a course of action in terms of pushing its proposal through in the future.