Faculty Senate urges fossil fuel divestment

By a vote of 46-13-2, the Cornell University Faculty Senate adopted a resolution Dec. 11 calling for the university to divest its $5.7 billion endowment from the top 200 fossil fuel-holding companies.

The resolution, “Cornell Investment and Divestment Strategies for a Sustainable Future,” also calls for Cornell to revise its Climate Action Plan to set a goal of carbon neutrality by 2035. In 2009 the university pledged to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.

Cornell’s faculty is the first in the Ivy League to pass a resolution calling for divestment, and many professors believe the symbolic resolution will foster dialogue, according to a statement released by faculty senators.

“It is our responsibility to act together to strongly encourage the governmental actions that are needed to address the rapidly approaching climate catastrophe,” said David Shalloway, the Greater Philadelphia Professor in the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics and a co-sponsor of the resolution with 37 faculty members in 21 departments. “The adoption of the resolution by the Faculty Senate demonstrates moral courage that I hope will inspire similar actions at other educational institutions.”

Some of the resolution’s co-sponsors research climate change and adaptations to it. “Cornell was founded as a land-grant institution with a mission to translate our research into real-world solutions,” said co-sponsor Robert Oswald, professor of molecular medicine. “That is precisely what we are trying to do here.”

The Faculty Senate’s resolution followed a spring 2013 Cornell Student Assembly (SA) resolution that called for full divestment from fossil fuel holdings by 2020. The Graduate and Professional Student Assembly tabled a similar resolution.

In a Cornell Daily Sun editorial following the SA resolution, President David Skorton wrote: “We have no plans in the foreseeable future to divest from direct holdings or commingled funds in the fossil fuel industry.”

A.J. Edwards, Cornell’s chief investment officer, submitted a memo to the Faculty Senate. “Regardless of what someone thinks about divestment, I truly believe that there are much more effective ways to impact the discussion,” he wrote. “… the potential impact on the university is significant, especially so in light of the continued pressure on university revenues. … Lowering the return of the endowment will significantly impact the amount of money that is available to support the university.”

Edwards said he will recommend to the president how the investment office can consider the resolution balancing the best interests of the university and noted, “We continue to seek investments in sustainable energy that meet our risk/return requirements.”

The president has 45 days to respond to the Faculty Senate resolution.

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John Carberry