By Ann Berwick June 01, 2015
A debate about whether universities should divest their investments in fossil fuels is roiling campuses nationwide. Stanford University’s decision last year to divest from coal companies has turned up the heat. The controversy was elevated by student sit-ins at Harvard, accompanied by a supporting letter from well-known alumni, in response to President Drew Gilpin Faust’s decision not to divest.
There are thoughtful arguments against divestment, but they should not prevail.
Divestment opponents maintain it has no effect on a company’s share price, and that the market will immediately absorb any shares that are shed. They claim divestment damages schools’ investment portfolios — and by extension, their primary educational mission — while removing progressive voices from the governance of fossil fuel companies. They also doubt we can, or should, divest from a product that we need to rely on, and wonder where the divestment line should be drawn — there are other businesses and industries that might make the socially-conscious squeamish.
All points worth considering, but the counterarguments are more compelling.