Pressure Ramps Up For Fossil Fuel Divestment
By Donald Gilpin
As the Princeton University community awaits an administration committee’s proposal to the board of trustees on dissociation from fossil fuel companies and the trustees’ ultimate decision, many in the community are not optimistic and not happy with the slow pace of the University’s response to many years of student activism in urging divestment.
A year ago the Princeton University Board of Trustees authorized a process to consider the University’s dissociation from certain fossil fuel companies. On March 21, 2022, University Vice President and Secretary Hilary Parker provided an update on the work of an administrative committee assigned to the task.
“Our goal remains to propose for board approval a set of actionable criteria for dissociation and a process for implementing them, now and into the future, by the end of this academic year,” she said.
In February of this year Divest Princeton — a coalition of students, staff, and alumni — filed a legal complaint against Princeton University with the New Jersey Attorney General, calling for an investigation of the University’s investments in the fossil fuel industry.
Last Friday, April 22, a group of about 40 demonstrators outside Nassau Hall delivered to University President Christopher Christopher L. Eisgruber a petition signed by 160 faculty and staff, the first time Princeton faculty and staff have publicly taken a collective position calling for divestment from fossil fuels. An earlier Divest Princeton open letter calling for divestment has been signed by more than 3,000 Princeton students, staff, and alumni.
The recent faculty and staff petition states, “It is incompatible with the University’s moral principles to seek profit from continued investment in fossil fuels. We thus call on its leaders to adopt a policy of complete divestment during this calendar year, in keeping with the majority of Ivy League peer institutions.”
The petition claims that the current University administration process to consider dissociation from fossil fuel companies spreading climate disinformation or involved in coal and tar sands production is not adequate. “We feel this is not enough; we are fast losing the only home we have,” the petition states.
Nate Howard, Princeton University freshman, co-coordinator of Divest Princeton, and one of the leaders of last Friday’s demonstration, described the petition from faculty and staff as “a significant milestone in our campaign.” He continued, “The trustees and the administration can no longer pretend that the Princeton academic community is indifferent to the University’s complicity in the climate crisis.”
The Princeton University endowment’s total fossil fuel exposure is about 4.5 percent (about $1.7 billion) of the total endowment. In the past five years, about 50 fossil fuel-related companies have recruited on campus, and the University has received about $26.2 million in new funding research from 11 oil and gas companies. “The most significant support has been from ExxonMobil and BP for environmental and sustainability-related projects,” the University reported.
“Princeton needs to acknowledge that its extensive fossil fuel investments are at odds with the climate research being done by its own faculty,” said Princeton freshman Aaron Serianni, the other co-coordinator of Divest Princeton.
Serianni, Howard, and Divest Princeton are determined to keep putting pressure on the University to divest from fossil fuels. “I’m hopeful that once the report comes out we’ll have a more clear understanding of how we need to move forward,” said Serianni. “We’re freshmen and we’ll be around for a long time to keep the pressure on.”
In her committee’s March 21 dissociation update, Parker emphasized that “Dissociation includes and goes beyond divestment,” to include also “refraining … from soliciting or accepting gifts from a company, purchasing the company’s products, forming partnerships with the company, and facilitating the company’s campus engagement activities.”