Updated Dec. 8, 3:21 a.m.
Barnard’s Presidential Task Force to Examine Divestment formally recommended on Wednesday that the board of trustees fully divest the college’s endowment from coal and tar sand companies.
The recommendation also encourages the trustees to divest Barnard’s holdings in companies that actively deny climate change.
The task force was created last December following calls from student activist group Divest Barnard for the college to divest from fossil fuels. Composed of Barnard trustees, faculty members, and students, the group was tasked with creating an in-depth economic analysis report detailing the social and financial impact of divestment for the college.
The recommendation, which was presented to the board of trustees’ Committee on Investments, was released as part of the official report that the task force began compiling in February. Pending a full review of issues surrounding implementation, it is likely the COI will recommend approval of the task force’s recommendations to the full board, according to Chief Operating Officer and Task Force Chair Rob Goldberg.
Based on the information in the report and the task force’s recommendation, the COI will then share its recommendation with the full board of trustees at its March meeting. The full board will then vote on whether or not the college will accept the task force’s recommendations at this time.
At present, Barnard's endowment—which totalled $286.6 million as of June 30—is invested in a commingled fund with 13 other institutions through the firm Investure, LLC. Approximately six percent of Barnard's endowment is currently invested in fossil fuels.
When creating the report, the task force determined that there were five options they could pursue, which included no divestment, investment in a fund focused on alternative energy, or divestment from companies that mine coal and tar sands. The group also considered divestment from fossil fuel companies that “deny climate science or otherwise seek to thwart efforts to mitigate the impact of climate change” or full divestment from fossil fuel companies over the next five years.
The task force ultimately chose to recommend divestment from companies that deny climate science, as well as those that mine coal and tar sands.
“There was a consensus on the task force that part of our role as an educational institution is to support academic freedom, to support the scientific method, to support evidence-based reasoning, evidence-based research,” Goldberg told Spectator in an interview on Tuesday. “Activities of fossil fuel companies that contradict those principles contradict our principles.”
The recommendation is similar to a proposal created by Columbia’s Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing, called Stand Up for Science, which also looks to put pressure on companies which deny climate change science by divesting from them.
Additionally, the task force proposed comprehensive sustainability recommendations that include developing a climate action plan with clear, time-bound goals and appointing a sustainability dean or officer to provide accountability and oversight.
Though Goldberg acknowledged that complying with these recommendations would be a multi-year project, he said selective divestment from companies that deny climate science would be most impactful because it would allow Barnard to differentiate companies within the fossil fuel industry, providing a resource for other institutions looking to selectively divest and ideally incentivize fossil fuel companies to operate more responsibly.
Still, should the board approve the recommendation, the process of determining which companies the college should divest from will be complicated. Given that the college invests in investment portfolios, not with specific companies, it is unclear how many fossil fuel companies Barnard currently invests in.
Task force and Divest Barnard member Evelyn Mayo, BC ’18, said the group is looking to form an implementation committee in January in order to prepare for the chance that the board approves divestment. The committee, which like the task force will likely consist of students, trustees, faculty, and staff, will be responsible for determining how the college will carry out this recommendation.
Notably, the task force’s final recommendation differs from the original request for full divestment from all companies that extract, refine, market, and sell fossil fuels that Divest Barnard made to the board a year ago.
“I don't think it does anyone any favors to pretend like it was easy,” Mayo said. “Until the bitter end we fought for the option that we stood for.”
Still, Mayo and Camila Puig, BC ’17, another task force and Divest Barnard member, said that the task force’s unanimity behind its recommendation is evidence of the long and thoughtful process that has taken place over the past year.
“With talking to faculty and staff, the argument was made that this [partial divestment recommendation] was a much more encompassing form of divestment,” Puig said. “We still think that full divestment is the way to go. But I think us really pushing for that the whole time kind of created this recommendation to be as robust and as flexible and as all-encompassing as it is.”
While the task force’s recommendations mark the end of a significant stage in the college’s movement toward divestment, members of the group acknowledged that there is still a long road ahead.
“We've taken this as far as the task force can take it,” Goldberg said. “Now, we need to get the board to sort of look at this and say this looks about right, and then we move on to implementation.”
J. Clara Chan contributed reporting.