Students campaign for Cornell's divestment from fossil fuels outside Willard Straight Hall.

Sun File Photo

Students campaign for Cornell's divestment from fossil fuels outside Willard Straight Hall.

February 2, 2016

Cornell Trustees Vote Against Fossil Fuel Divestment; Introduce New Guidelines

Print More

Cornell University’s Board of Trustees voted against divesting from fossil fuel investments, introducing new guidelines which specify that the University will only divest endowment funds from a company whose actions are “morally reprehensible,” according to the University.

This decision comes after a series of resolutions passed by shared governance organizations including the Student Assembly, the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly and the University Assembly, all urging the University to divest from the fossil fuel industry.

The Board also explained its plan to implement a new set of criteria which in the future will determine which corporations will be able to retain Cornell’s endowment funds.

The newly approved standards for divestment say that the board will only divest from companies if their actions are “morally reprehensible,” citing examples of apartheid, genocide, human trafficking, slavery, systemic cruelty to children, and violation of child labor laws as practices which Cornell would deem unacceptable, according to the University.

The new standards further specify that the Board will only consider divesting from corporations if divestment will “likely have a meaningful impact toward correcting the specified harm and will not result in disproportionate offset societal consequences,” the University said.

Donald Opatrny ’74 chair of the board’s investment committee explained the Board’s decision saying Cornell’s endowment “must not be regarded primarily as an instrument of political or social power.”

“[The endowment’s] principal purpose is to provide income for the advancement of the university’s educational objectives,” Opatrny said.

However, the University will still use divestment to condemn corporations in certain cases, according to Joanne Destefano, Cornell’s executive vice president and financial officer.

“In extraordinary circumstances, the trustees may determine that direct financial investment in particular companies associates Cornell with actions or inactions that violate the university’s most deeply held values and, therefore, should be avoided, regardless of potential financial return,” she said.

The movement to end divestment on campus began in 2013 when the S.A. called for divestment from the fossil fuel industry. Both President Emeritus David J. Skorton and President Elizabeth Garrett have articulated their concerns regarding divestment, calling the movement a drastic measure that would not meaningfully impact climate change.

  • Cornell Alum ’93

    First of all, when Cornell invests in these “fossil fuel” companies, Cornell is not giving money to the companies. Cornell is buying shares of a company from someone else possessing shares of that company. The original money already went to “the fossil fuel company” at the public offering of the stock.

    Secondly… If one is so against “fossil fuel” companies, I’d recommend first acting on your own. Instead of driving to/from Ithaca and home between semesters, maybe you can walk between Ithaca and wherever you live. That would be an impressive boycott of fossil fuels.

    I’m all for the environment, just as much as the next guy. But, truth be told, when you get older, you start to realize that a lot of these “causes” that 18-22 year olds protest for… are idealistic to the point of just being downright naive.

    Cornell not investing in “fossil fuel companies” would have no effect on anything.

    I’m all for companies and people making changes to improve our air/water/earth, etc.

    I think majoring in certain sciences, etc at Cornell and working WITH Cornell at this noble cause would do a lot more than standing outside Willard Straight Hall with handmade cardboard signs and complaining about the university.