Students protest at a Board of Trustees meeting on March 23.

Cornell CFO Cancels Meeting with Climate Group After Learning of Plans to Demand Fossil Fuel Divestment

Joanne DeStefano, the University’s executive vice president and chief financial officer, canceled her planned meeting with Climate Justice Cornell to draft steps toward a more sustainable campus after learning that the group intended to present a series of demands to her. Although DeStefano herself encouraged CJC members to set up the meeting, she canceled the gathering after reading a copy of the meeting agenda attached to an email to meeting attendees by Elizabeth Chi ’18, ex-campaign coordinator of CJC. “I agreed to this meeting as a courtesy to share our policies and to help you to understand the Board of Trustees’ position regarding divestment,” DeStefano wrote to Chi in an email, adding, “I must say that I am extremely disappointed to learn that your purpose for the meeting is to make a series of demands.”

The group used the word “demand” in its agenda as indication of some of its priorities and goals, according to Jenny Xie ’20, a member of the financial task force for CJC. “My stomach dropped as soon as I read the email,” said Julie Kapuvari ’19, CJC member. “We had been preparing for weeks.

GUEST ROOM | A Green Endowment

Economics and climate awareness have always been heralded as enemies in the media, with “right-wing, power-hungry” economists battling with “left-wing, hippie” environmentalists. But what if there was a way for them to join forces to achieve a common goal? On Oct. 4, the Senior Leaders Climate Action Group released a report outlining different pathways to achieve carbon neutrality by 2035, furthering its commitment to the Climate Action Plan released in 2009. Members of SLCAG presented the report before the Student Assembly yesterday, and will take questions from the entire community at a forum on Oct.

BERKOWITZ | Cornell’s Legacy in the 21st Century

“In the future, when the history is written of what institutions did, or did not do, to mitigate the catastrophic effects of climate change, the millions spent on research and teaching will fall in the positive column of universities’ ledgers. Just as surely, the hundreds of millions, even billions, invested in fossil fuel industries, especially those that conduct business as usual in exploration and extraction, will fall in the negative column, never to be erased. At that time, it will be asked why institutions such as Harvard pursued financial gain in this form, knowing full well that they were contributing to large and growing human suffering and to shortened lives for many, especially the poor, who will come after them.”
Several weeks ago, Professor James Engell of Harvard, along with eighteen fellow professors, made this thought-provoking statement in The New York Times. In a way, Engell was asking of Harvard: what do you want your legacy to be? As proud Cornelians, we too should be concerned about creating a lasting legacy we can be proud of in the 21st century in the midst of climate change, a growing crisis on a scale we have never seen before.

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Yale divests, and Cornell fights a rising tide

To the Editor:
On April 12, Yale announced that it has begun the partial divestment of its endowment from fossil fuels, citing carbon taxes and other regulations that would imperil the profitability of such investments. However, neither Yale nor Cornell has yet acknowledged the ethical issues surrounding fossil fuel investments — the mounting criminal investigations, the human rights abuses, the millions of climate refugees, the droughts and storms striking our own country. But at the very least, Yale is responding to market pressures and making welcomed decisions about its endowment accordingly. Cornell’s Office of Investments, on the other hand, appears to be in hopeless denial about the negative economic ramifications of its business-as-usual approach to energy investments. By sweeping under the rug concerns about the inevitable implosion of the “carbon bubble,” our investment office blindly holds on to a falling regime.

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | On Divestment

To the Editor:
Every prospective student tour group I see on campus has been about hearing how Cornell University still has oil, gas and fracking investments. For Cornell to put a lot of energy into sustainability efforts is wonderful. Such initiatives though, need to have the support of the Cornell Board of Trustees with their decision remove all University investments, to divest, from fossil fuels. Cornell Trustees have thus far chosen to ignore the advice of experts as well as the representative faculty and student bodies on campus and are only looking at the financial bottom line. Perhaps the Trustees will at some point realize that doing the right thing, de-investment from all fossil fuels, will be good for PR and marketing to potential students, while also maintaining the positive bottom line.

GUEST ROOM | On Divestment and Hypocrisy

Recently, the Board of Trustees released a statement claiming that Cornell will only “divest from companies if their actions are ‘morally reprehensible,’” citing examples of apartheid, genocide and so on. We welcome this development. In its clear-cut identification of what constitutes an inappropriate financial investment, the University appears outwardly responsive to a longstanding concern in Cornell’s body politic — ethically responsible allocation of the University’s endowment funds. In light of this newly calibrated position on divestment, however, we find it fitting to remind the Board that Cornell’s endowment remains invested in several corporations which directly and indirectly profit from Israel’s 48-year occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Consistently condemned by the international community as the single most enduring obstacle to the attainment of peace in the region, Israel’s illicit occupation of the Palestinian territories involves routine violations of the Palestinian people’s fundamental human rights.