Update on Fossil Fuel Divestment
June 22, 2018
Dear Members of the Brandeis Community,
You may recall that when Ron reported on the April Board of Trustees meeting, he highlighted the board’s discussion of a proposal that the university divest from its endowment all fossil fuel holdings. An ad hoc committee had been constituted to answer specific questions raised during the January board meeting, and members of that ad hoc committee had circulated a report and given a summary of their findings. Several faculty and students who have worked diligently on the fossil fuel divestment issue were present at the board meeting to answer questions and take part in the discussion, which was quite lively and informative. The board’s plenary session was followed by an executive session, during which the board continued its consideration of divestment. Meyer, as the board chair, appointed a small subcommittee to consider the multiple options outlined in the ad hoc committee report. Ron reported to the community that the goal was to arrive at a decision on the divestment of fossil fuels within 60 days.
We are writing to you now to inform you that, despite vigorous efforts and serious consideration, the board has not yet been able to reach a firm consensus regarding divestment of fossil fuels. We fully realize that this inability to reach a decision will be disappointing to many. A large number of faculty, students, and staff have worked hard over several years to persuade the board to act on fossil fuel divestment. We deeply appreciate and respect the sincerity and commitment that so many have expressed.
Good governance requires careful, thoughtful, balanced exploration of issues as complex as divestment. The board simply needs more time to fully explore the implications of any decision on the divestment of fossil fuels. The board has a fiduciary responsibility to manage the university’s endowment — to produce the greatest return with the lowest possible risk — in the interests of current students, faculty, and staff, as well as future generations. At the same time, it must do so in a responsible manner.
While we fully understand the arguments and the intensity of concern regarding fossil fuel holdings, a decision regarding divestment of fossil fuels cannot be made in a vacuum or without consideration of issues related to risk and other consequences and implications. We need time to reexamine, update, and revise the university’s current policy statement, “Brandeis University as a Responsible Investor,” first adopted in 1973. This policy statement is dated, broad, general, and vague, and doesn’t provide sufficient clarity and guidance to suggest actions regarding investments in general or divestment of fossil fuels specifically.
The board is committed to working diligently over the summer to conduct an extensive review of policies governing investments and identify best practices. The board intends to complete this review in a timely manner that will allow it to consider the adoption of a new standard at its September meeting. Although we cannot guarantee that the board will adopt a new standard at the September meeting, it is our goal and intent to achieve consensus by then. If the board does adopt new standards, which would govern investment decisions more broadly and comprehensively, it would be our intent to bring to the board specific recommendations for action regarding divestment of fossil fuels at our November meeting.
Thank you for your continued understanding and patience.
Meyer Koplow, Chair, Board of Trustees
Ron Liebowitz, President