I had the chance to be part of something truly special this month. Two weeks ago, I was at the University of Dayton for their conference entitled “Divest/Invest, Taking Dramatic Steps to Create Lasting Change.” I spend many weekends away from campus doing fossil fuel divestment work, but this conference was different. Never before had I been surrounded by university trustees, executive directors of philanthropic foundations, members of the clergy, renowned journalists and financial dynamos who were working on divestment. The movement was started and is led by college campuses in solidarity with frontline communities—but it was invigorating to see how much it has grown.
Last Spring, BCPD showed up as I attempted to deliver a letter to our president asking for an earnest conversation on divestment. What’s past is past, but let’s use that moment as a point of comparison. At UDayton, I ate dinner with the university’s provost, president, and trustees. I was invited there as a plenary speaker. “We are so grateful for student activists. We want to support you however we can,” they told me. You can imagine how alien this felt.
UDayton divested from fossil fuels in 2014, and they’ve been working to reinvest their funds into a just and sustainable economy. Since divesting, their returns have broken even, and donations to the university have tripled. “We got more push back when we changed our school’s logo,” provost Paul Benson joked. Wealth managers explained UDayton’s success by getting into the market details, and in the process unraveled the financial argument against divestment.
A panel on board politics was given by George Hanley, a trustee at UDayton. A trustee himself, he said that the arguments against divestment, especially for a Catholic university, are weak. He advised “If your trustees refuse divestment by citing fiduciary responsibility, the mythical hypocrisy of divesting while living in a fossil-fuel dominated society, or false desires to remain apolitical, I’d doubt their motives.”
The moral argument for divestment was discussed by people representing Catholic universities and religious orders. Instead of summarizing, I’ll make a request: look at Boston College’s ethical investment guidelines. Repeat our mission statement to yourself. Read Laudato Si. Then watch the news. It’s a no-brainer.
UDayton is now using its endowment to answer the cry of the poor that Pope Francis begs us to hear. Divestment is simply the right thing to do, but it takes commitment and freedom from special interests. Speakers encouraged students to be aware of special interests within university leadership. They told us to get to know our trustees. Do it. Google our board. Look up divestment finances. Listen to faith leaders who are divesting. Look to the global movement that has moved upwards of $2.6 trillion out of fossil fuels. There is no such thing as an apolitical endowment. BC and its money do not exist in a vacuum. Not having a conversation is in fact saying something big.
At BC’s post-Laudato Si climate change conference, there was little talk of divestment. There were discussions about “ecological conversion” and an ethical summons to tackle climate change. But almost two months later, I ask you—what has changed? Nothing. It appears that the conference paid lip service to Laudato Si without intending on challenging the systemic issues on and off campus that are perpetuating the climate crisis.
The only official response concerning divestment from BC higher-ups in the past year has been a series of “no’s” delivered via trite editorials, praising CJBC’s passion but dismissing divestment for the usual uninformed reasons. Yes, we’re passionate. We’re also right. If BC waits long enough to break its ties to an industry that jeopardizes our future, it will fall behind.
I love BC. This University has given me everything, and I want to be proud of it wherever I go. When talking about BC at the conference, people were disappointed that a Jesuit school as influential as ours refuses to discuss divestment in a genuine way. At this crucial point in history, BC has an undeniable responsibility and enormous opportunity to act. We should be the leaders we’re called to be.
Featured Image by Drew Hoo / Heights Editor