Updated May 16, 7:32 p.m.
The Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing announced on Wednesday that it voted not to support Barnard Columbia Divest’s proposal to divest from fossil fuel companies because the proposal did not meet the ACSRI’s criteria for divestment.
The ACSRI said in its response to BCD that the decision was specifically in response to the Barnard Columbia Divest proposal, and not a general recommendation on fossil fuel divestment. The response also said that the ACSRI will establish a subcommittee to study student proposals for divestment and “pursue the optimal engagement model for the university.”
The response noted, however, that Columbia currently does not own stocks of any top-200 company in its directly managed portfolio. While Columbia does hold stocks of oil or gas companies that were donated or selected by donors, such securities are not controlled by the University’s Investment Management Company, which the ACSRI advises.
BCD proposed in November that the ACSRI recommend to trustees divestment from the top 200 publicly traded coal, oil, and gas companies, the imposition of a freeze on new fossil fuel investments, and divestment from all direct holdings and commingled funds within five years.
In the response, the ACSRI said that the BCD proposal did not meet the three basic criteria of the divestment being “a broad consensus within the University community regarding the issue at hand,” having merits of the dispute lying clearly on one side, and being “more viable and appropriate than ongoing communication and engagement with company management.”
“It is the conclusion of this subcommittee that the specific request from Barnard Columbia Divest does not meet the necessary tests for divestment. While there is some student consensus, the merits of the case are not clearly on one side, nor are we sure that Columbia’s divestment would send a signal more powerful than engagement. It seems unlikely to us that divestment from fossil fuel would ‘revoke a social license’ when we continue to use fossil fuels day after day in every aspect of our lives,” part of the response said.
In a statement released to Bwog on Friday, BCD members called to meet with the University's trustees about the matter in the fall and criticized the structure of the ACSRI.
The statement said that the ACSRI "has hiterto not been a legitimate partner in exploring the question of divestment, but rather a PR-friendly institutional barrier between students and the financial decision-making power that lies with the Board of Trustees and the Trustees Subcommittee on Shareholder Responsibility (TSSR)."
"Alongside having discussions with the members of the Board, we promise to commit ourselves most to turning to Columbia community members, especially our fellow students," the statement continued. "In the coming weeks, months, and years, we will together hold our university accountable to our principles and a healthy, safe future for all."
The statement from the ACSRI came in response to an email on Monday sent by BCD leader Daniela Lapidous, CC ’16, to ACSRI members calling on the committee to make a public statement on the divestment proposal by Wednesday.
The email also said that ACSRI had not been transparent about its meetings regarding fossil fuel divestment.
“The ACSRI process of investigating fossil fuel divestment has been hidden from us and the Columbia community, and we do not really know what your stance on fossil fuel divestment is – despite promises of transparency and inclusion,” part of the email said.
ACSRI meetings are closed to the public, though the committee does release minutes from its meetings. After the ACSRI last met on Tuesday, members refused to comment after the meeting. It is not clear when and how the vote against the divestment proposal occurred.
Divestment has been an issue at other universities. Last week, Stanford decided to divest from coal-mining companies.
Check back for updates.
Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story said that Stanford was the first university to divest from its endowment. Spectator regrets the error.