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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

VSG Senate unanimously passes two bills supporting fossil fuel divestment

One resolution calls for the university to begin divesting from fossil fuels by the end of the 2020-21 academic year.
A number of VSG senators co-sponsored the resolutions to demonstrate their support for the cause. (Hustler Staff/Jonathan Liu)

UPDATE: This piece has been updated with the specifics of responses from VSG senators.

On Oct. 28, the Vanderbilt Student Government (VSG) Senate unanimously passed two bills supporting the university’s divestment from fossil fuels.

The Graduate Student Council (GSC) will consider passing a bill on Nov. 4 to further advocate for the cause, according to Ph.D. student Miguel Moravec.

According to its 2020 Financial Report, the university has invested more than $300 million in natural resources, including oil and gas production, energy and related services. 

The first resolution recognizes DivestVU and the Fossil Free SEC—a coalition of 12 schools promoting the divestment movement—as accredited organizations under VSG which, according to DivestVU Co-Founder Emily Irigoyen, allows them to work more closely with groups like VSG’s Environmental Affairs Committee.

The second resolution serves as an amendment to an expired resolution which maintained that the university would divest from fossil fuels within five years. According to VSG Environmental Affairs Committee Chair and DivestVU Co-Founder Jenn Coen, the amendment now calls for the university to begin the process of divestment by the end of the 2020-21 academic year, redirecting those investments to sustainable solutions instead.

VSG Vice President Shun Ahmed was involved in the preparation of both resolutions. She comments that the unanimous decisions to pass them speak to the importance of the cause.

“You want to pass a bill when you’re recognizing a movement, and it was natural to establish a connection between our organizations,” Ahmed said. “Now, VSG can publicly put its resources, time and energy into helping DivestVU.”

Both bills were co-sponsored by First-Year Senators Angela Yan and Katey Parham, Second-Year Senator Virali Patel, Third-Year Senator Emily Hugan, Fourth-Year Senator Olivia Sinrich, Engineering Senator Carlissa Arrow, Arts and Science Senator Bryce Collings and Speaker of the Senate Kate Petosa. Fourth-Year Senator Ellie Ward only co-sponsored the first bill.

Senator Bryce Collings did not respond to request for comment. Senators Kate Petosa and Ellie Ward responded to request for comment but did not complete an interview.

Since the passing of the two bills, Irigoyen said that DivestVU has received 10 endorsements from its student organization support form. In addition, as of Oct. 31, DivestVU’s divestment petition has collected 769 signatures.

Moravec said that he and two other PhD students—Brad Davidson and Natalie Pak—will co-sponsor another divestment bill to the GSC, establishing solidarity with the efforts of the undergraduate community.

According to Irigoyen, DivestVU has been closely working with Ahmed on a number of efforts, including organizing a meeting with Vice Chancellor for Investments and Chief Investment Officer Anders Hall. The goal of the meeting, Irigoyen said, is for Hall to bring up action on the issue of divestment to the Board of Trust, a group of 24 trustees that governs the university.

Irigoyen added that DivestVU will be holding a climate change town hall on Nov. 17 with the help of VSG’s Campus Alliance Committee to recruit new members and discuss the connection between climate change and divestment.

“Vanderbilt is investing millions of dollars in supporting the fossil fuel industry, so we want stakeholders from our community to see how climate change has affected their lives, as Vanderbilt is, in part, responsible for that change,” Irigoyen said.

According to Moravec, DivestVU’s new supporters include Joyce Chaplin, a former Vanderbilt professor currently teaching at Harvard University, where she helped co-found the divestment movement.

“Vanderbilt has a chance to lead other universities, from the SEC to Harvard, on this important ethical and environmental issue,” Moravec said. “We hope the administration will come to the table and not squander this special chance to really project Vanderbilt’s commitment to science, sustainability and the well-being of our global community.”

Coen attributes DivestVU’s success so far to the precedents set by past movements within the university.

She said, “Looking at the history of Vanderbilt, we’re not the first divestment movement to start, but hopefully we’re the last.”

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About the Contributor
Jonathan Liu
Jonathan Liu, Former Deputy News Editor
Jonathan Liu (‘24) is from Fremont, California. He is pursuing a major in Neuroscience and Music with a minor in Medicine, Health and Society. You can reach him at [email protected].
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Aryt Alasti
3 years ago

The query about purpose and utility of divestment has been posed numerous times over the years, and it has been comprehensively answered on numerous occasions. Here’s a summary of the fundamentals from five years ago:

A recent development not mentioned there is the insurance-company campaigns, led by Insure Our Future.

Earlier this year the Rockefeller Brothers Fund published an account of the process that they went through with implementing divestment. As a foundation with assets originally derived from fossil fuel enterprises, they participated in shareholder engagement efforts for a long time before concluding that such initiatives are ineffectual in creating essential change. Shareholder resolutions cannot address a business’s fundamental mode of operating, and there isn’t the remotest likelihood that any typical endowment or pension fund (or grouping of those) will acquire a “controlling” interest in major public companies. All resolutions other than those about appointments of directors are solely advisory. There are coalitions of activist investors such as ClimateAction 100+ which are doing good work, but that has not resulted in a single major company setting goals for the future in alignment with science-based targets.

3 years ago

I still don’t understand how a total divestment solution actually helps solve the problem at hand. It seems that many people are under the impression that investing in a publicly traded company somehow benefits the company you are investing in. That is almost always not the case (unless you are trading on the primary market). The majority of trading on the stock market takes place in a secondary market, where the entire exchange is between two parties independent of the company being traded. When Vanderbilt buys fossil fuel stock it is almost certainly not paying the fossil fuel company, but rather another party (who owned those shares previously). Thus, when Vanderbilt chooses to sell fossil fuel stock, all we are doing is allowing the price of that stock to temporarily drop so less morally conscious investors can seize on the opportunity. In fact, it seems to me the better solution would be to encourage universities to buy as much fossil fuel stock as possible (while also partially divesting on the primary market, so as not to benefit fossil fuel companies in any way) so that we can control fossil fuel companies from the inside and influence their decisions through majority control. But instead, divestment campaigns are encouraging universities to give up their ability to control the fossil fuel industry and simply cede that control it to investors who do not have student (and typically pro-climate) oversight.