The Stanford Board of Trustees will vote to divest from oil and natural gas by the end of the academic year, student activist group Fossil Free Stanford (FFS) predicts.
FFS has crafted a three-part plan to push for full divestment this winter and spring following the five-day sit-in outside the offices of the President and Provost in November. This plan calls for a no-donation pledge from alumni and seniors, direct conversations with members of the Board of Trustees and support of the Faculty Senate campaign for divestment.
FFS demands that Stanford freezes all new investments from the top 100 oil and gas companies, as determined by the carbon content of their fuel reserves, and that the University divests from direct ownership in any of those companies within five years. Members of FFS emphasize that divestment is a symbolic statement against the fossil fuel industry.
“The statement is what matters, that Stanford is going to take a moral stance on this [issue] and they’re not going to bet our futures on returns from industries that are destroying those same futures,” said Michael Penuelas ’15 M.S. ’16, a member of the FSS Media and Communication Team.
No-donation pledge from alumni and the senior class
FFS will be encouraging alumni and the Class of 2016 to pledge not to donate to the University until it agrees to divest from fossil fuels. This is a tactic for alumni to leverage the power and influence they still hold in the University, according to John Broomhead ’17, a core member of the FFS alumni coordination team.
During November’s sit-in, 30 alumni came to campus to announce to the Office of Planned Giving that they would not be donating to Stanford until the University divests from oil and natural gas.
“In the same way that divestment is not a tactic to economically cripple the fossil fuel industry, the alumni are trying to use their donation participation as a metric for the University for broad support and commitment for divestment,” Broomhead said.
As for seniors who pledge not to donate until divestment is reached, Broomhead explains that it is a way of “saying we don’t want to contribute to the University going in this direction. We have a different vision for Stanford showing leadership on climate change and making decisions that will propel our society to a more long-term, stable climate trajectory.”
Direct conversation with the Board of Trustees
FFS will continue to pursue conversations with individual members of the Board of Trustees in order to make sure members understand both the stance of FFS and Stanford students on divestment and their goals for the University. So far, FFS has spoken with Thomas Steyer M.B.A. ’83, Laurene Powell Jobs M.B.A. ’91, Jeffrey Raikes ’80, and Kavitark Ram Shriram; they have also had brief conversations and email connections with another half-dozen board members.
“We know, and we’ve heard this from a number of sources, that the sit-in had material impact on the visibility of the campus consensus on fossil fuel divestment to members of the Board of Trustees,” Penuelas said.
The question remains whether the swaying power for divestment lies in the hands of the board or of President John Hennessy.
“Quite frankly, if I asked SCIR [Board of Trustees’ Special Committee on Investment Responsibility] on whether to do divestment, they would say no… I will tell you completely honestly [complete fossil fuel divestment] has no chance of passing because it has no background research,” Hennessy said during his meeting with FFS after the sit-in.
However, according to FFS administrative liaison Sijo Smith ’18, the Board of Trustees is not on campus enough to really gauge what the community is asking for. It therefore relies on Hennessy for judgments on the feelings on campus. Additionally, Penuelas said he believes that Hennessy has more power and influence on the Board of Trustees than he lets on.
“The real decision-making powers lie in the Offices of the President and Provost, and the Board is… not actually altogether democratic,” Penuelas said. “Until Hennessy gives them the green light, they won’t [vote to divest].”
Furthermore, at the meeting, Hennessy “didn’t have an answer to the question, ‘How is it that Stanford — a university that is incredibly wealthy, an institution full of brilliant people, including a whole group of 30 to 50 students who want to provide more information on [fossil fuel divestment] that is trying to get information to him and the Board on this — [can’t] muster those resources to get that question answered on a shorter timeline, in line with national and international climate action goals?’” Broomhead said.
Faculty Senate resolution
Following the ASSU and Graduate Student Council’s resolutions in support of divestment, FFS now wishes to concentrate on encouraging the Faculty Senate to write its own resolution in favor of divestment.
In March 2014, Stanford faculty members wrote a letter in support of fossil fuel divestment. A goal of the FFS faculty-working group last year was to get the letter published, which it was in January 2015 in The Guardian. The faculty members then repeated their call for divestment and asked for an answer to their letter from the President and Board of Trustees this past November in an op-ed in The Daily. Today, their letter has 381 faculty signatories from different fields, the majority of whom are tenured.
This letter, however, is not the equivalent of a resolution. FFS will specifically work on both finding someone in the Faculty Senate to draft the resolution and building support for it through one-on-one outreach to faculty.
The APIR-L & end-of-year goals
FFS continues to work with Stanford’s Advisory Panel on Investment Responsibility and Lessening (APIR-L), a group composed of faculty, staff, students and alumni that works on investment responsibility issues, such as issues pertaining to human rights and environmental energy. The panel reviews requests to change Stanford’s investments based on such issues, and subsequently makes recommendations to the Board of Trustees. It reviewed FFS’s original 2012 request to divest from fossil fuels and recommended to the Board that the University divest from coal, which it ultimately did in 2014. Since then, FFS has submitted a new request to the APIR-L asking for divestment from oil and natural gas, but the panel’s progress has been slow.
“We’ve had a lot of issues with very high turnover rates,” explained Smith. “It’s a purely volunteer job, so they have had a lot of trouble keeping people on the panel. So we’ve had to restart the process multiple times.”
Since the APIR-L puts a pause on requests to review over the summer, it makes sense for the panel to make a recommendation to the Board of Trustees before the end of the academic year, according to Smith.
“We have a lot of momentum that we’ve built up coming out of that big action from last quarter, and we really feel like it’s driving us forward this quarter and next quarter,” Smith said.
Contact Rebecca Aydin at raydin ‘at’ stanford.edu.