Thirteen students, holding cardboard signs and wearing orange Fossil Free Yale felt pins, stood before Yale’s Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility on Tuesday in yet another attempt to encourage University divestment from fossil fuels. But this time, their proposal was different than the committee had heard before.
Nearly 50 people filed into the Yale Law School for the annual open meeting hosted by the ACIR — an eight-person committee made up of Yale employees, professors and students that was established to advise the Yale Corporation on ethical investing. Though the meeting was open to all students, FFY and the discussion of divestment became the focal point as the group unveiled a new proposal, which included the demand to no longer engage with fossil fuels companies before seeking divestment. While faculty and students interviewed said the meeting was productive, the future of FFY and whether these new steps will create administrative change remain uncertain.
“I think it was important for FFY to make a public statement to re-engage with the administration official channels,” FFY organizer Tristan Glowa ’18 said. “We previously hoped for shareholder communications before we divest, but we have progressed as an organization and it is more fitting to our core beliefs to ensure divestment without shareholder engagement.”
The new proposal cited five measures, including demands that Yale immediately freeze new investment in fossil fuel companies, divest direct holdings from these companies and institute a “improved administrative process” for students and faculty to engage with the administration.
ACIR Chair and professor Jonathan Macey began the meeting by outlining the limited power his committee holds on the topic of divestment, since final decisions are issued by their “bosses” on the CCIR — Corporation Committee on Investor Responsibility. He said that he hopes to work with FFY to the extent it is possible given the decision issued by the CCIR in August not to divest from fossil fuels.
Macey told the News after the meeting that the ACIR typically holds its open meetings around January or February, but in light of the August announcement of the vote against divestment, he said it was important to engage students earlier in the academic year.
“I was worried that the announcement of the decision would be polarizing and the ACIR would have no role to play,” he said. “We are all involved in the issue and we are all trying to figure out some way to move forward.”
In addition to the FFY students holding posters displaying the organization’s guiding principles, five student representatives gave a speech outlining their concerns with the University’s decision and their interest in re-engaging the Corporation on the question of divestment.
Still, Macey likened the current situation facing FFY to an attorney whose client has already been sentenced to jail. If no new information is brought to light, the case will likely not be retried, he said.
But FFY leaders argued that their modified proposal will help make divestment a more achievable reality.
“This is our chance to rebrand ourselves and come up with a new proposal and new focus to include more social justice and student voices to reflect the urgency of the issue,” Chelsea Watson ’17 said. “It is more than the climate change aspect — it is also about the environmental and climate justice aspect.”
YCC President Michael Herbert ’16 also spoke in favor of divestment. Although University President Peter Salovey has used strong rhetoric in stating that climate change is the greatest threat of the time, Herbert said his language is not matched by commensurate actions.
Patrick Reed ’16 echoed this sentiment, stating that current steps by the administration are insufficient.
“While it is good that Yale will now officially support third party, pro-climate, shareholder resolutions, this policy is a limited, passive consolation,” he said. “Because Yale will not originate resolutions, it lacks the ability to engage when it sees fit.”
Following the presentation, which lasted roughly 30 minutes, the ACIR invited the group for a question-and-answer session. The discussion touched upon issues including administrative transparency and the question of whether the ACIR should hold and disclose a formal vote on the topic.
Still, students and faculty remained divided on whether tangible changes would come from this type of dialogue.
“Although the Fossil Free Yale proposal tonight was different than last year — it is more nuanced and developed — the bottom line is the same of divestment,” Macey said. He added that he could not forecast whether the CCIR will reverse its decision.
Watson said she thought the meeting was very productive and that it addressed many of the key issues regarding the University structure in allowing for discussions of divestment.
She added that she is looking forward to meetings with the ACIR later this semester, which Macey agreed could be arranged in order to continue the conversation. This was one of the few tangible plans of action that emerged from the meeting.
“While we didn’t get the ACIR to get firm commitments, they really did understand where we were coming from and what we were saying,” Glowa said. “We need to think about how that will lead us to success now.”
Yale established the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility in the 1972-73 academic year following its adoption of guidelines from the book “The Ethical Investor: Universities and Corporate Responsibility.”