One year after calls for divestment, Northwestern’s Board of Trustees continues to refrain from action


Evan Robinson-Johnson/Daily Senior Staffer

Over a hundred undergraduate students gathered in Scott Hall Thursday. Students expressed frustrations over the lack of progress in implementing Fossil Free Northwestern.

Spencer Allan, Reporter

After a year of inaction from the Board of Trustees, students renewed their calls for Northwestern divest from fossil fuels during the Advisory Committee on Investment Responsibility’s open meeting Thursday.

Students gathered in Scott Hall to support the Fossil Free Northwestern proposal, which calls on NU’s Board of Trustees to cut investments in gas and oil companies from the school’s endowment fund. According to the proposal, NU has over $49 million invested in companies listed on the Carbon Underground 200 Index.

Tasked with making recommendations to the Board of Trustees’ investment committee, the ACIR holds three public meetings a year in the Guild Lounge, where students can voice their concerns about University investments. The meetings often bring in low turnout, but over a hundred undergraduate students attended in support of Fossil Free Northwestern on Thursday.

Weinberg sophomore Sarah Fernandez, who spoke to the committee on behalf of Fossil Free Northwestern Thursday, demanded that the Board of Trustees act quickly and deliberately when deciding on the proposal.

“You have already voted in favor of our divestment proposal in June 2019,” Fernandez said to the Board. “Five months later, we still stand with that decision.”

The Board of Trustees has remained silent since the ACIR passed the Fossil Free proposal last summer. Feinberg Prof. Philip Greenland, who chairs the committee, expressed his frustration over a lack of acknowledgment from the Board.

“We’re also frustrated that this has taken a while,” Greenland said. “I expected a response sooner myself.”

Evan Robinson-Johnson/Daily Senior Staffer
ACIR chair and Feinberg professor Philip Greenland. Greenland asked students not to make demands of the Board of Trustees, drawing outcry from students.

In 2013, students created Fossil Free Northwestern when Associated Student Government passed a referendum to eliminate the University’s holdings in coal and oil companies. The Board of Trustees rejected the proposal, bringing Fossil Free’s efforts to a halt for nearly four years.

Early in 2019, undergraduate students from a regrouped Fossil Free reintroduced the proposal to the recently formed the ACIR. It passed in June, but the Board of Trustees hasn’t addressed the ACIR’s recommendation.

At the start of the school year, Greenland heard from the Board that they were working on a policy statement regarding investments but received no indication that they were considering the proposal.

Communication senior Ross Patten spoke on behalf of NU’s chapter for Students for Justice in Palestine, another student organization calling for divestment.

“We are deeply concerned with the lack of transparency surrounding the ACIR and the Board’s Investment Committee, the lack of proposals put through and the lack of necessary investment knowledge available to us as students,” Patten said.

Fossil Free also called on the Board of Trustees to be more transparent about endowment investments.

Weinberg sophomore Keala Uchoa, one of two undergraduate students serving on the ACIR, emphasized concerns about transparency.

“The numbers that Fossil Free brought in their proposal are gross underestimates of what Northwestern has actually invested in,” Uchoa said. “It’s clear that my constituents here are really concerned about transparency. How can we do our job if we don’t even have the numbers?”

Greenland called on students to make suggestions, rather than demands, of the Trustees, eliciting outcry from students. He also promised that the ACIR would ask the Board of Trustees to move quicker in its response to the proposal.

Despite Greenland’s promise, students remained frustrated over the lack of progress in passing a proposal first suggested over six years ago.

“This is just an advisory committee — it doesn’t have any sway on the board,” Patten said. “It feels to me very much that this committee is a bureaucratic way of stifling campus activism.”

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