The University of Pennsylvania doesn't think fossil fuels rise to the level of "apartheid or genocide"

The ongoing movement on the nation’s campuses to force schools to divest from energy industry investments involving fossil fuels took a bit of a beating this year. We previously saw New York University take a pass on the idea after evaluating the economic realities, and then Notre Dame followed down pretty much the same path. Now the Pennsylvania University system has been forced to answer to the special snowflakes who want them out of the dirty business of oil and the Keep It In The Ground movement appears to have gone zero for three.

This time, however, they needed to address even more strident claims from the students and a number of faculty members. Keeping the school’s funds invested in such activities, according to the activists, amounted to what was essentially the same as supporting apartheid or genocide. It turns out that the school’s administrators aren’t quite ready to make that leap.

The decision came upon the unanimous recommendation of an Ad Hoc Advisory Committee on Divestment assigned to review divestment. The committee consisted of faculty, students, staff and alumni.

In a letter to Fossil Free Penn explaining the trustees’ decision, Chairman of the Board of Trustees David Cohen said the “moral evil” protesters linked to fossil fuel companies did not rise to a level “on par with apartheid or genocide.”

“While the Trustees recognize that the ‘bar’ of moral evil presents a rigorously high barrier of consideration, we are resolute in our belief that such a high barrier must be maintained so that investment decisions and the endowment are not used for the purpose of making public policy statements,” Cohen wrote.

This is yet another case of a school coming to the correct (and logically only) decision, but framing their answer in a rather mealy-mouthed fashion. The bottom line in this case is literally their bottom line. Institutions which have chosen to divest significantly from the energy industry have historically taken significant losses, so meeting the interests of the endowment would preclude such an action. But the industry itself is not “evil” and the school should have the backbone to stand up to their own liberal charges and inform them of that. Going one step further, a lesson in hyperbole may be in order, or at least supplying the students with new dictionaries.

Genocide and apartheid are both very serious, sober topics. When you begin invoking them every time you run into a political cause of the week which strikes your fancy you demonstrate a lack of seriousness and surrender the right to have people in positions of authority deal with you on an adult basis. But the cloistered, hothouse environment of our schools today has produced the trigger warnings and safe spaces which are breeding a generation of graduates with no sense of balance or perspective. That leads to poorly thought out “causes” such as this which inevitably fail and also leave the students ill prepared for life in the real world.

But still, good for the Pennsylvania State University system for at least reaching the correct conclusion. It’s just a pity they couldn’t seize the opportunity to incorporate a valuable learning opportunity at the same time.


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David Strom 5:21 PM on June 02, 2023