Announcing the Formation of Brandeis University's Exploratory Committee on Fossil Fuel Divestment

Sept. 30, 2013

Dear Members of the Brandeis Community:

I write today to announce the formation of a working group to explore Brandeis’s investment strategies as they relate to the fossil fuel divestment movement. The committee includes students, alumni, and members of the faculty and administration.

Over the past year, a number of our community members have become engaged in this movement, sparked by their commitment to sustainability and increasing concerns over the role of fossil fuels in climate change and other social justice issues.

Brandeis University has a lengthy investment policy that states, in part:

"In deciding whether to purchase securities of a particular corporation, the university will in most cases be guided solely by the financial considerations of safety and growth of capital and production of income. Only when the corporation is directly and substantially involved in activities clearly considered by the university community to be contrary to fundamental and widely shared ethical principles should the portfolio managers be instructed to avoid purchase of its securities. . . . Where a corporation's conduct is found to be clearly and gravely offensive to the university community's sense of social justice and where it is found that the exercising of shareholder rights and powers is unlikely to correct the injury, consideration should be given to selling that corporation’s securities. Due regard should be given to both positive and negative conduct of the corporation. . . ."

This investment policy allows the university, through our Investment Office and the Investment Committee of the Board of Trustees, to offer guidance to the investment groups that manage our holdings. Bearing this policy in mind, there is quite a lot to consider in examination of the university’s investments in fossil fuels. This working group is being brought together to find the most Brandeisian answer to this issue.

The working group will address the goals of:

(a) analyzing the social and environmental justice impacts of the fossil fuel companies in which Brandeis holds investments
(b) modeling and understanding the financial impact of divestiture of the endowment from all or part of the companies analyzed
(c) establishing a list of alternative investment options including investment in socially and environmentally sustainable holdings or funds
(d) addressing a more global objective of reducing the endowment’s carbon footprint across each sector of our investment portfolio, utilizing Socrates scores and other Socially Responsible Investments indices

The committee will produce a report of its findings and recommendations to the university, on how it can invest and divest responsibly while strengthening its leadership in the context of climate change and social justice.

The committee, in its proceedings and analyses, will take into account:

●    the urgency of the climate crisis and the social and environmental impact of fossil fuels
●    the university’s commitment in the 1973 Responsible Investor guideline
●    the complex and indirect nature of university endowment investments
●    the views and the appeals of students and alumni of the university
●    the university’s commitment to, and leadership on, social justice
●    the impact of financial decisions upon the students and university community

An initial meeting of the group was convened in June 2013, with subsequent meetings throughout the summer, and I expect their work will continue well into the school year. Any reports or recommendations from the group will need to be reviewed by the Investment Committee of the Board of Trustees to consider whether a proposal will be advanced to the full board.

Peter Giumette, dean of student financial services, will serve as the chair and facilitator for this group. Committee membership has been selected to include faculty, staff, students, and a member of the Board of Trustees Investment Committee. They all have my thanks and appreciation for taking on this challenging and important subject.

Ricky Rosen '14, Student Union representative
Rohan Bhatia '14
Prof. John Ballantine, IBS
Prof. Eric Olson, Heller
Mike Abrams '15
Rachel Soule '12
Colin Mew '14

Ex Officio
Andrew Flagel, SVP Students and Enrollment
Ellen de Graffenreid, SVP Communications
David Bunis '83, SVP and Chief of Staff
Prof. Dan Perlman, Arts and Sciences and Associate Provost
Nick Warren, Chief Investment Officer
Len Potter '83, Board of Trustees Investment Committee member

Sincerely,

Fred Lawrence