November 9th, 2013 | University

Divestment debate heating up

Debate is ramping up in preparation for the Yale College Council’s campus-wide referendum on the issue of divestment to be held on Nov. 17.

A “con” statement was submitted to the YCC’s referendum website on Friday by Students for a Strong Endowment. The group argued against using the endowment as a political instrument, which they said may establish “troubling” precedents. If Yale pulls investments from the fossil fuel industry, the University may come under pressure to divest from other causes, the group wrote.

A strong financial aid program, globally renowned faculty and world-class research must continue to exist at Yale, the group wrote, adding that “supporting divestment would be a signal that these crucial institutional goals are no longer our first priority.”

Students for a Strong Endowment added that the environmental concerns and questions raised by students in support of divestment are not invalid.

“But we strongly believe, for a number of reasons, that the university’s endowment is an entirely inappropriate location to air those questions,” the Students for a Strong Endowment wrote on the YCC page.

A “pro” statement submitted by the group Fossil Free Yale on Nov. 3. said the University must follow its own investing guidelines, which are in a 1972 volume entitled The Ethical Investor.

“Concerted action through divestment would raise awareness and create social stigmas against fossil fuel companies,” Gabe Rissman ’16, a representative from Fossil Free Yale and a lead author of the recent report, told the News. “Divestment is consistent with [Yale’s] values.”

Studies have shown that fossil free portfolios generate comparable returns to standard portfolios, Fossil Free Yale said in the statement.

In a Thursday night master’s tea, Chief Investment Officer David Swensen said he respected the amount of thought students give to ethical investing. He also acknowledged current discourse surrounding whether universities should phase out investments in the fossil fuel industry.

“It will be interesting to see how this whole thing plays out,” Swensen said.

The referendum will be held from Nov. 17 to Nov. 20.