Some faculty have now joined the push for fossil fuel divestment at Yale — an effort that was previously helmed almost entirely by students.
On Tuesday evening, Fossil Free Yale released a letter written in conjunction with Yale School of Public Health professor Robert Dubrow that called upon the University to reconsider the question of divestment. In August 2014, University President Peter Salovey announced that the Corporation Committee on Investor Responsibility voted not to support divestiture of Yale’s assets in fossil fuel companies. As of press time Wednesday evening, the letter had 51 signatures spanning over a dozen departments and three schools. Still, with similar faculty petitions from peer institutions numbering in the hundreds, some faculty interviewed said it would take more time and support before this letter would place new pressure on the administration.
“On this particular issue [of divestment], I think [the administration] made a mistake, and I hope we can persuade them,” Dubrow said. “I think the ‘we’ has to be more than just students, but faculty are naturally a critical part of the University and have an important role to play.”
Dubrow said he was initially hesitant to “stick his neck out” for the issue, but after being approached by members of FFY three weeks ago, he decided to help author the letter. He said he felt it was important for the University to take the lead on this issue of divestment and set an example for other peer institutions.
In March, the University updated the campus on the six new sustainability initiatives it unveiled eight months earlier, which range from a $21 million capital investment in energy conservation to the possibility of an internal carbon pricing mechanism.
Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Tamar Gendler said she was glad to see faculty and others on campus engaged in “constructive and respectful dialogue” about how best to respond to climate change.
Faculty interviewed cited a variety of reasons for signing the document, ranging from the social justice harms of the fossil fuel industry to the leadership role associated with institutions of higher education.
“Universities have a special burden to stand for humanity,” History, American Studies and African American Studies professor Glenda Gilmore wrote in an email. “We teach by example, and Yale is setting the wrong example by profiting from fossil fuel investments.”
She added she is optimistic that the letter and student advocacy will convince the University to change its stance since divestment is “inevitable” as environmental crises raise awareness about the harms of fossil fuel causes.
African American Studies Department Chair Matthew Jacobson said he signed the letter because he believes that the environmental devastation caused by fossil fuels is among the most important issues currently facing the global community.
“If our political institutions are incapable of addressing it, then other kinds of institutions will have to be made to,” he said. He added, however, that he has no expectation that it will be a quick process for the University to divest.
Though the petition remains in its early stages, it trails behind other peer institutions that have organized similar faculty letter campaigns. Petitions at Columbia, Harvard and Stanford have gained 150, 246 and 369 signatures, respectively.
However, FFY member Nathan Lobel ’17 said the momentum behind the letter is “growing rapidly.”
“These faculty are the leaders in their fields,” Lobel wrote in an email. “When experts in environmental health, public health, social justice, political science and countless others stand up and say that the University should divest, it lends this issue the legitimacy of the academic rigor that this institution was built on.”
This is not the first time FFY has organized a petitioning process that included some faculty support. In 2013, over 1,000 members of the Yale community, including undergraduates, graduates, alumni, staff and faculty, signed a document expressing a call for the University to divest.
Still, FFY Project Manager Mitch Barrows ’16 said this effort was distinct from previous petitions since the vast majority of signatures on the 2013 petition were from students. He added that FFY is currently seeking to engage all members of the Yale community to place pressure on the administration.
Any decision on divestment cannot not be made without faculty input, FFY member Tristan Glowa ’18 said.
Lobel added that FFY will continue to reach out to professors and will host an event for faculty members to come together and discuss the merits of divestment on April 17.
“We will not stop recruiting support from … professors until Yale divests,” Lobel said.