Students demand timeline on Board divestment decision


Emma Edmund/Daily Senior Staffer

Tuesday’s ACIR meeting in Guild Lounge. Students expressed concerns at the lack of a trustee decision on Fossil Free Northwestern’s divestment proposal.

Emma Edmund, City Editor

Students demanded a timeline from the Board of Trustees on its decision regarding Fossil Free Northwestern’s divestment proposal at the Advisory Committee on Investment Responsibility meeting Tuesday.

Philip Greenland, the chair of the ACIR, said he was told he could expect a decision on the proposal by Tuesday’s meeting. Greenland said he most recently asked the board about a possible decision last Thursday before the meeting, but as of Tuesday’s meeting, the trustees had no update.

Fossil Free’s proposal calls for Northwestern to divest from all of its holdings in the top 100 coal companies and the top 100 gas and oil companies, as well as for reinvestment in non-fossil fuel companies, especially those that place emphasis on renewable energy and energy efficiency. The document cites millions of dollars of University investments, including $45.4 million in companies such as BP.

“The fact of the matter is, our planet is dying, and I feel stupid having to say that, because everybody knows it,” said Weinberg sophomore Sarah Fernandez, representing Fossil Free. “I’m frustrated because they have enough privilege to be able to ignore the fact that the planet is dying, that humans are dying, but other people don’t, and other people are living that reality every day. Us as students are trying to advocate for those people, and it’s incredible how there’s not much more attention to this.”

The ACIR holds an open meeting every quarter in Guild Lounge, allowing students to voice their concerns about university investments. The committee was created to take proposals regarding investments related to the University’s Endowment from the Northwestern community and eventually make recommendations to the Investment Committee on the Board of Trustees.

In early 2019, members of a regrouped Fossil Free reintroduced a 2013 divestment proposal to the committee. The new proposal was passed and recommended for approval by ACIR in June 2019.

Students were frustrated about the difficulties in speaking with the board and with the board’s infrequent meeting times.

“It feels like we have no leverage here, which is incredibly jarring,” SESP sophomore Cate Durudogan said. “It’s frustrating when they hold this incredibly powerful position and just say, ‘Oh we don’t meet, so we don’t have enough time to do this.’ Well, then maybe someone else should have that decision-making power.”

Students also expressed concerns with the trustees’ lack of action at November’s ACIR meeting, which had over a hundred undergraduate attendees. Representatives from groups including Fossil Free and NU’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine spoke in favor of divestment and brought up the concerns of lack of transparency with the board.

At Tuesday’s meeting, students requested a timeline from the board or a way to further communicate with them. Board members generally agreed that a timeline is a reasonable request, and Greenland reiterated that he communicates to students what he knows.

“We do have a line of communication,” Greenland said. “We’ll use it. We used it after the last meeting.”

At the end of the meeting, some students pointed out that ACIR and the student body should ultimately be on the same side.

Fernandez said she could see why ACIR members might be frustrated with Fossil Free or other concerned students, and she said the group has been put between the students and the trustees.

“You are the ones that are shouldering all of this frustration and all of this anger, from the student body, not them,” Fernandez said. “We’re on the same side and you guys are being used (by the trustees) for them to not have to be accountable to these things that we’re demanding of them. We’re on the same side and we’re just trying to push it forward.”

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