OARE Commends Divestment Policy

To the Editors:

Last week, the Oberlin College Board of Trustees released a groundbreaking policy for divestment. In a statement, the Office of Communications said: “In accordance with the College’s history of action in response to ‘instances of human suffering, natural calamity and injustice,’ the Board will consider proposals for divestment from entities that contribute to activities that ‘shock the conscience.’” In addition, the policy states that divestment proposals must cause “significant financial, reputational or other adverse impacts on the target of the divestment that may influence its behavior or the behavior of other similarly situated entities;” and that “the proposed divestment … will be generally understood by and acceptable to the greater Oberlin community.”

We applaud the Board of Trustees for acknowledging that human suffering, natural calamity and injustice should be taken into account when considering investment policy. With this move towards responsible investing, Oberlin is poised to strengthen its stance as a leader for social justice. As alumni who have been fighting for a socially responsibly invested endowment, we are excited to work with the Board of Trustees to divest from companies that “shock the conscience.”

Our consciences have been shocked by natural disasters resulting from climate change. We are glad the Board has listed “disregard of profound environmental degradation” as grounds to divest from a company. Fossil fuel companies have been degrading the environment for years, and in light of the national news coverage of Stanford University’s decision to divest from fossil fuels, it is hard to argue that divestment would not cause “reputational” harm to these companies.

We are excited that this divestment policy sets the stage for Oberlin to become a leader in the movement to fight climate change.

Our consciences have also recently been shocked by the Israeli attacks on Gaza that killed thousands of innocent civilians, many of them children. We are pleased that the Board of Trustees is now accepting proposals to divest from companies that cause significant human suffering through profiting from the Israeli occupation. Moreover, considering the recent news coverage of divestment campaigns and the Oberlin Divestment Resolution that overwhelmingly passed the Student Senate in 2013, it is clear that divestment would cause “reputational” harm to companies and be understood as acceptable by the Oberlin community.

While we are excited by the possibilities for divestment that this policy opens up, we understand that policies are different than actions, and there is much to be done. The policy includes the stipulation that any divestment “will be generally understood by and acceptable to the greater Oberlin community, based on the Board’s best understanding of the community’s opinion.” We are concerned about the ambiguity of this statement and how the Board intends to gauge what is acceptable to the Oberlin Community. We are hopeful that this policy will lead to a truly transparent process that seriously considers student, faculty and alumni demands for a responsible endowment. If not, this policy will just be one in a long line of College policies meant to placate student, faculty and alumni concerns without taking real action.

This divestment policy speaks to Oberlin’s unified voice. Oberlin now has a clear path for concerns of the community to be addressed by the Board of Trustees and can become a leader in the movement for responsible investing. We look forward to working with the trustees on implementing this divestment policy and moving toward an endowment that is invested in ways that live up to the College’s stated commitment to social justice.

Those interested in finding out more about Oberlin Alumni for a Responsible Endowment can contact us at [email protected]

–Oberlin Alumni for a Responsible Endowment