Divestment “Progress” (Not Really)

Students march around North College during Friday’s Climate Change Strike

On Tuesday, September 17th, President Michael Roth ’78 sent out a campus-wide email announcing Friday’s Climate Strike. He also announced Wesleyan’s new (?) investment policy. (Read it after the break.)

Over the years, students have urged the University to change its investment policies in response to the climate crisis. I am pleased to report that the Investment Committee of Wesleyan’s Board of Trustees has voted to eliminate any permanent allocation to “oil and gas” from its asset allocation model. What does this mean? It means that Wesleyan will no longer seek out managers specifically to invest in oil and gas in order to balance its portfolio as a whole. This is a significant step, as the University had previously sought to invest around 7 percent of its endowment in this sector. Furthermore, any new investment managers hired must meet our ethics, governance and social responsibility expectations. As stated now in our guidelines: “in selecting external managers or considering direct investments,” the Investment Committee will “consider environmental, social and governance factors as part of their investment process.” Just as we aim to reduce our dependence on non-renewable energy on campus, I expect we will steadily reduce our dependence on fossil fuels investments in the endowment.

Yes, I suppose it’s important that the university is not setting aside 7% of the endowment (a self-mandated number) towards investments in oil and gas. But Roth’s statement doesn’t describe any concrete action that would decrease our fossil fuel investments. “No longer seeking out managers specifically to invest in oil and gas” doesn’t stop us from hiring the fossil fuel junkies; it just forces us to legitimize these morally — ahem — dubious hires differently. “They’re reliable!” “We’ve hired them in the past!” “We work out at the same gym!”

The last section of Roth’s statement rings in a particularly hollow fashion:

As stated now in our guidelines: “in selecting external managers or considering direct investments,” the Investment Committee will “consider environmental, social and governance factors as part of their investment process.”

This would all be dandy, except 1) “considering factors” doesn’t really mean anything tangible, and 2), the statement implies that we’re making new and improved strides towards responsible investing. In fact, that guideline was added four years ago, in 2015.

Déjà vu?

In conclusion, while things could change, the evidence overwhelmingly suggests that nothing, in fact, will change. Following Roth’s email, some students took to Soggy We$ Memes to air their complaints.

Soggy We$ Memes

Soggy We$ Memes

Soggy We$ Memes

So what can you do? Make no mistake: It’s going to be a long, slow road. But reform don’t come easy, and we’ve seen change happen on campus before. Some possible avenues to get involved:

WesDivest – A group of Wesleyan students focused on ending Wesleyan’s direct holdings in the fossil fuels industry and shifting to 100% renewable energy.

Committee for Investor Responsibility – Wesleyan’s student, faculty, staff, and alumni panel that advises the University’s Board of Trustees on ethical matters related to the endowment. Currently accepting applications on its site for the 2019-20 year.

Sunrise Movement Middletown – Although not aimed specifically towards Wes, this chapter the national youth movement Sunrise is dedicated to fighting the “corrupting influence of fossil fuel money in politics.”