Letter to the Editor: We deserve a say: Why Northwestern trustees should divest from coal


There’s a reason coal is for the naughty. It contaminates our air, pollutes our water and destroys our health. It is by far the worst offender of the fossil fuels causing climate change. The mission of the DivestNU movement is to ensure that our endowment — an $8 billion portfolio of stocks and other assets which exists to ensure that Northwestern can continue to provide high-quality education and research — is free of investments in these coal companies. We have been building support and meeting with administrators to push for action against this dirty fuel for over two years. Thousands of other students at schools across the planet have been doing the same.

But what do you do when meetings and discussions hit a wall, while climate change continues to worsen and millions of people’s lives are threatened?

You make some big noise.

Tomorrow is Global Divestment Day, a worldwide day of action around fossil fuel divestment. As it approaches, DivestNU is reminded of the progress we’ve made so far in our mission to remove our investments in coal. We’ve passed resolutions through the Associated Student Government and Faculty Senate, have gained over 1,600 petition signatures and have had frequent contact with Will McLean, NU’s chief investment officer.

We took a big step last quarter when we met in person for the first time with Mr. T. Bondurant French, a member of NU’s Board of Trustees (which controls our endowment), and had a productive conversation about climate change and the need for action. As a private university, NU usually prefers to keep its Board of Trustees meetings and its investments behind closed doors, meaning minimal access to key people and information. When DivestNU gained this meeting, we thought we had finally made real progress in opening a conversation with the Trustees.

However, in January, we reached out to Mr. McLean to request a meeting with the Board’s Investment Subcommittee, hoping to continue discussing divestment. Mr. McLean responded by saying he and the Board are “exploring other approaches to this issue (climate change) than Divestment,” and that they “will certainly keep (us) abreast of where that takes (them).”

We are writing this letter to say we cannot and do not accept this response. The Trustees did not give us the chance to present our argument to more than one member, did not communicate with us about their discussion and did not notify us of any vote on divestment. Given these facts, we can’t help but question the democracy of the Board’s decision. Without taking into consideration the values and beliefs of this University and its students, the Trustees have independently arrived at the decision not to divest, putting their own priorities before those of the NU community they are supposed to serve.

Time and time again, students, faculty and staff have shown their support for divestment. President Morton Schapiro himself has told the Board he is in favor of it. We are the constituents of the Board of Trustees and the people who the endowment directly affects. We have made it clear that we do not want our education funded by investments in an industry that kills and pollutes. What is a priority to the NU community should be a priority to the Board of Trustees. Yet the Board continues to act without any indication that they are truly weighing our opinions and interests, and have continually failed to take climate change and our movement seriously. If they are not accountable to us, the NU community, then who are they accountable to?

NU cannot claim leadership in sustainability while investing in coal companies that do more harm than good. While we encourage the Board to discuss approaches to addressing climate change besides divestment, holding on to coal investments is irresponsible and inconsistent with the values NU has set forth in its strategic plan, in which we commit to “contribute to solutions for renewable energy and a sustainable environment.”

So, tomorrow, on Global Divestment Day, we will be educating NU about this problematic situation and call for transparency and cooperation from our Board. This is a call that we want the entire NU community — students, faculty and staff — to be a part of. Find us all day at Norris University Center, The Rock and Technological Institute to sign a letter to the Board of Trustees showing your support.

The NU community can no longer sit back and let the Board disregard its values when it comes to coal divestment. We need to see action by the Board of Trustees and be a part of their decisions. Tomorrow, the entire globe will be behind us. We hope you will be too.

The DivestNU Team
Noah Becker
Scott Brown
Andrew Carlson
Christina Cilento
Alex Dolgonos
Stephanie Garcia
Justine Hung
Alex Kirschner
Kerry McFadden
Margaret Parker
Allison Valentijn
Natalie Ward