Climate Change, Public Policy, and the University, by Robert Stavins: Over the past year or more, across the United States, there has been a groundswell of student activism pressing colleges and universities to divest their holdings in fossil fuel companies from their investment portfolios. On October 3, 2013, after many months of assessment, discussion, and debate, the President of Harvard University, Drew Faust, issued a long, well-reasoned, and – in my view – ultimately sensible statement on “fossil fuel divestment,” in which she explained why she and the Corporation (Harvard’s governing board) do not believe that “university divestment from the fossil fuel industry is warranted or wise.” I urge you to read her statement, and decide for yourself how compelling you find it, and whether and how it may apply to your institution, as well.
About 10 days later, two leaders of the student movement at Harvard responded to President Faust in The Nation. Andrew Revkin, writing at the New York Times Dot Earth blog, highlighted the fact that the students responded in part by saying, “We do not expect divestment to have a financial impact on fossil fuel companies … Divestment is a moral and political strategy to expose the reckless business model of the fossil fuel industry that puts our world at risk.”
I agree with these students that fossil-fuel divestment by the University would not have financial impacts on the industry, and I also agree with their implication that it would be (potentially) of symbolic value only. However, it is precisely because of this that I believe President Faust made the right decision. Let me explain. ...