It’s a sad day for the young and aspiring social justice warriors at New York’s Cornell University, my friends. They’ve got so many things to protest these days (still working on those safe spaces) that it’s hard for them to keep track of them all. But one thing they rarely lose sight of is the fact that the want the university’s endowment to divest itself from all manner of evil and purify the flow of cash into their enclave. What are we divesting from this week? Israel? Gun manufacturers? Professional sports? Well… they do want to divest from all of those, but the current topic is our old friend fossil fuels.
Oil is bad, mmmkay? So they don’t want any university funds going to prop up the evil empire. Unfortunately, the trustees got together last week to consider the request and decided that they’d really rather keep the cash flowing in if it’s all the same to you. (Bloomberg)
Cornell University’s trustees voted against divesting from fossil-fuel investments in its $6.3 billion endowment and also approved guidelines on selling university funds for socially responsible reasons.
The board decided on Jan. 29 that it will consider divesting “only when the company’s actions or inactions are morally reprehensible,” constituting apartheid, genocide, human trafficking, slavery or systemic cruelty to children, including violation of child labor laws, according to the Cornell Chronicle, the university’s online newsletter published Tuesday.
Divestment has been a popular issue in recent years among students, who have protested at campuses from Swarthmore College to Yale University. Yet even with the movement spreading to more than 1,000 campuses, only a few dozen schools have placed some restrictions on their commitments to the energy sector.
I think my favorite quote from the board’s rather lengthy decision is where they say, “Cornell’s overriding responsibility is to maintain itself as a neutral forum for analysis, debate and the search for truth.” The underlying meaning, as they go on to explain, is that the entire divestment from oil is a political question and the august institution shouldn’t get bogged down in the nasty business of partisan bickering. This is rather hilarious on every level since most universities generally leap with abandon into partisan liberal causes, unless of course… there’s money to be made.
The odd thing here is that if there were ever a time to get out of energy as an investment it would be now. The entire sector is tanking as oil hovers around the near suicide levels of thirty dollars a barrel and the glut of natural gas supplies from fracking are similarly driving those prices downward. But in the long run, much like investing in IBM, energy investments always come back. No doubt Cornell knows this and they’re not about to cut off the goose that lays the golden eggs.
They aren’t alone either. One study last summer showed that of all the institutions being pressured to divest – at least among those with major endowments – only four of them took any concrete steps to do so. And three of those four only divested from coal companies, choosing to remain in the more lucrative oil and gas sectors. The single school with an endowment of more than $1B which entirely dropped their fossil fuel portfolio was Syracuse University.
Live to fight another day, social justice warriors. You get a lot of praise from the liberal press for your efforts, but when you get to where the rubber meets the road, the people running the universities are operating a business. You might want to sign up for a few courses in economics in addition to your Gender and Racial Equality Studies major.