From Boston University to the entire nation of Ireland, the push to divest from fossil fuels is stronger than ever. During this semester alone, dozens of universities such as Harvard and Dartmouth have committed to ceasing their financial support of companies involved in the fossil fuel industry. However, as more universities celebrate their climate victories, students at Boston College are left wondering whether their administration will budge. With a $3.8 billion dollar endowment – a $1.2 billion increase this past year alone – Boston College administrators currently face immense pressure to reevaluate how they manage their institution’s investments.
With this urgency in mind, Climate Justice at Boston College (CJBC), along with Young Democratic Socialists (YDS), FACES Council, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), EcoPledge, and Real Food BC held a town hall meeting to discuss how BC could manage its endowment more ethically not only in regard to fossil fuels but many other prevalent social issues. Though divestment town halls aren’t new to Boston College, recent developments have shone an even greater spotlight on the need for conversation.
This past spring, a group of Boston College alumni and other advocates submitted a complaint to the attorney general arguing for divestment, which multiple groups at other universities emulated.
A representative from DivestHarvard, who attended the town hall virtually, touched on how their complaint was crucial in getting Harvard to the ‘tipping point’ where it finally had to divest. These complaints argue that investment in fossil fuels by non-profit universities is not only immoral but illegal under their “fiduciary duty to invest with consideration for the University’s charitable purposes,” as stated in the presentation. Though the complaint is still pending today, it has coupled with other grassroots actions at Harvard and other universities in an effort to increase the push for divestment.
In addition, YDS touched on why Boston College specifically has a moral obligation to divest. BC administrators claim that their investments are apolitical, but panelists at the town hall claimed that “to invest in companies is to endorse them.” They question whether an institution can stand behind Jesuit Values while endorsing unethical industries that rely on fossil fuels.
Although climate-related divestment is a hot topic, representatives from YDS and multiple other organizations at the town hall emphasized that “BC’s investments involve everyone who makes up the community,” and these investments extend beyond just fossil fuels. They referenced the past divestment against South African apartheid, BC’s original reluctance to participate, and the impact it had on curtailing injustice in the country.
A representative from FACES Council then expanded the call for divestment to ICE and the for-profit prison system. They referenced current injustices within these industries as well as their heavy reliance on contracting or sourcing utilities from private companies. Detainment facilities often buy services like surveillance technologies from brands including Microsoft and Dell. Because injustices like these rely on so many individual factors, they argued, divestment must be comprehensive and widespread.
A representative from SJP then related the cause to the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), which aims to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine and maintain equal rights for all Palestinian citizens. The resolution employs the boycotting of Israeli companies such as Sabra and HP.
They explained how divestment can function as a “boycott on an institutional level.” Commitment from large universities such as Boston College can play a crucial role in devaluing industries promoting injustice and oppression and building a snowball effect for other institutions to do the same.
Real Food BC expanded the harmful effects of fossil fuel investments to issues such as food insecurity and the harmful impact on small farms. They also referenced the history of forced labor and racial injustice in the private prison system touched on earlier, further demonstrating the wide-ranging nature of ethical investment.
Ethical investment spans even further beyond a stock portfolio, as a speaker from EcoPledge’s activism committee explained. They went over past controversies surrounding the BC political science department’s proposed funding from the Koch brothers. Due to the Kochs’ support of climate-denying research, students started the "Unkoch My Campus" campaign, which successfully led administrators to block Koch funding.
No matter their cause, every organization demonstrated just how expansive the issue of divestment is. Though calls for divestment have been ongoing for decades, recent developments prove that the movement is stronger than ever. More telling, however, might be BC’s unresponsiveness. With such a strong voice behind divestment, the reasons for administrative reluctance remain ambiguous.