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Divestment Spring

May 07, 2015 |  Rachelle Peterson

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Divestment Spring

May 07, 2015 | 

Rachelle Peterson

“Divestment spring” is what anti-fossil fuel protesters are calling their “escalated” forays into climate activism. Students at YaleHarvardBowdoin CollegeWesleyan UniversityUniversity of Colorado-BoulderTufts UniversityUniversity of Mary WashingtonTulane University, and Swarthmore College have left off writing petitions and instead staged sit-ins to demand their alma maters divest from fossil fuels.

Syracuse University announced its plans to divest on March 31, following a student sit-in in November and escalated action in the spring. The Mary Washington students held the president’s office for three weeks; Swarthmore Mountain Justice activists (students, alumni, and professors) filled a hallway in the finance office for more than four.

The nod to the “Arab Spring” is intentional. Divestment activists see their cause as cut from the same cloth as the Middle Eastern push for democracy. Fossil-fuel companies, per sustainability uber-activist Bill McKibben, have bought themselves the American political system, and hence are “Public Enemy Number 1.” College trustees, according to the students, are perhaps Public Enemy Number 2. Trustees enjoy “privileged” positions of power over students, and almost all of them have declined to cater to the schedules and the demands of activists who want de-oiled endowments now. That makes them, in the parlance of social-justice warriors, entrenchers of systematic student oppression.

Read the full article at The Federalist >

Image: "Swarthmore_Divestment_SitIn" by Swarthmore MJ / CC BY (cropped)

Robert W Tucker

| July 06, 2015 - 5:48 PM

Whether or not one is willing to consider them “customers,” students are a university’s largest stakeholder group and its principal raison d’etre. As such, they enjoy some rights to exercise influence analogous to those of Target’s customers or General Electric’s shareholders.

The fact that this idea will be objectionable to some may be due to their mistaken belief that college students are still 17-21 years old and that today’s universities retains their former role as in loco parentis.  More than half of today’s college students are adults and most of them hold jobs, have families, civic responsibilities, etc. While it is difficult to arrive at an appropriate definition, the average age of college students is probably closer to 30 than to 25.

It seems reasonable that students who have reached the age of majority should be accorded a voice in the affairs of the institution commensurate with the magnitude of their stakeholder status. Options such as taking their business elsewhere, a solution appropriate for Target’s customers, or selling their stock, a solution appropriate for GE’s shareholders, are not practical for college students where leaving the company (independent colleges are companies) could result in significant financial and academic losses.

Therefore, while I disagree with them on this specific issue, it seems appropriate that students should negotiate with the institution as to how the “profits” from their tuition and fees (i.e., “surplus revenue” in tax avoidance non-profit speak) should be dispersed. Moreover, the institution should be required to enter into such negotiations much the same as would be required in dealing with disaffected faculty or vendors.