Alumni group starts fund to pressure MIT to divest

Thousands of MIT alumni, students, and faculty are calling on MIT to divest its $12.4 billion endowment from fossil-fuel companies, an endeavor that MIT alumnus Rajesh Kasturirangan PhD ’04 calls “a moral obligation comparable to college divestment from South Africa during the Apartheid regime.”

On Feb. 20, a group of ten MIT alumni calling themselves Alumni for Divestment at MIT (AD-MIT) joined divestment movements from 16 other universities to launch the Multi-School Divestment Fund. The fund gives alumni and other donors a place to divert their donations until their recipient university commits to divest from fossil fuels.

If MIT doesn’t divest by Dec. 31, 2017, donations made to the Institute through the Divestment Fund will be redistributed to participating universities that have by then divested.

AD-MIT member Kasturirangan and Dartmouth alum David Goodrich said in a Boston Globe op-ed that the fund “leverages the greatest power alumni hold: our annual giving capability.”

The AD-MIT group also has plans to increase divestment awareness on the MIT campus, according to Kasturirangan.

“AD-MIT will organize lectures and meetings in collaboration with other campus groups in the fall, including a series on ‘divestment for nerds.’ We will also be organizing divestment-related events during commencement,” Kasturirangan said.

AD-MIT’s efforts are complementing those of Fossil Free MIT (FFMIT), a student group that for the past two years has been putting pressure on MIT to divest.

FFMIT’s petition to President Reif, which calls on MIT to divest from fossil fuel companies, has been signed by over 3,000 MIT community members, including 70 faculty members and almost a third of the undergraduate population.

Although MIT has yet to respond to the petition, it has created a Climate Change Conversation Committee. The committee is charged with gathering input from the MIT community on the actions it would like to see the Institute take on climate change, and synthesizing this input into a final report to President Reif by commencement 2015.

FFMIT member Priyanka Chatterjee believes the Climate Change Conversation is a way for MIT to avoid addressing divestment directly. In an interview with The Tech she said that the “Climate Change Conversation waters down the issue of divestment, because it makes divestment a sub-issue rather the main issue.”

According to Roman Stocker, chair of the Climate Change Conversation Committee, the MIT Conversation on Climate Change will be looking at all actions MIT can take on climate change, divestment being one option considered. Stocker said last year that it wasn’t his place to state a position on divestment.

Priyanka said that it isn’t fair to offer divestment as an option equal to its alternatives, because the support for divestment is so much greater.

“Putting divestment on the same playing field as other options gives it the same clout as any other thing that doesn’t have as much support behind it,” she said. “So even though MIT is giving us a great opportunity to have a conversation about climate change, they are skirting around the idea of divestment.”

Freedom over 8 years ago

Progressives moralize about fossil fuel divestment while they sit comfortably in their heated (or air-conditioned) rooms, eat their trucked food and use their Apple products constructed from child labor. Visibly, their 'charity' work is superficial and done for social status in their lefty social groups. It disgusts me.

How about we just admit everyone uses fossil fuels, and, sure, global warming is something to try to solve, but you won't solve it by randomly disrupting the free market. This kind of totalitarian policing just increases corruption (by discouraging transparency), disables institutions like MIT (by causing infighting), decreases social trust, and probably increases global warming in the long run.

I'm glad that in this case progressives are taking action on a real problem (global warming) rather than a fake, vague one ("poverty" "sexual assault" etc.). But if they go overboard, the result is economic suicide. I'd rather survive as a culture and manage global warming, rather than die as a culture and let a dirty, polluting culture take my place.

It's kind of funny the parallels:

Progressive approach to demographics: Don't have kids, and instead import poor, regressive people (e.g. Muslims, Somali refugees, etc.). End result: Progressives die out; culture is replaced by the culture of violent unstable Latin American regimes.

Analysis: Sure, you're being all nice by not having kids (since now don't have to do mom/dad gender roles which is sexist and "evil"), but you're missing the bigger picture.

Progressive approach to global warming: Find visible, weak targets connected to fossil fuels and apply social pressure for them to act against their best interests. End result: Institutions hide their connections to fossil fuels and find ways to becoming immune to social pressure. Basically, they become evil.

Analysis: Sure, you're being all nice by signaling you don't like global warming. But now you've just built an evil, corrupt system and haven't solved the global warming problem.

The vapidity of progressives disgusts me.

Irving Pinsky over 8 years ago

It's a matter of points of emphasis. They want air to breathe and clean water to drink. They are putting their money where their mouths are. Sounds like the best of The American Way:).

Anonymous over 8 years ago

I read the article and the petition, and I'm still not clear what they hope to achieve by divestment.

Is it their position that MIT research into climate science and alternative energy is compromised by investment int fossil fuel companies?

What impact does MIT's investment in fossil fuel companies have on the companies themselves? I would guess none at all--these aren't startups in search of VC's.

Do they think the existence of fossil fuel companies is amoral? Do they expect that switching over completely to alternative energy, given the higher cost, is a feasible plan right now?

A little more articulation on what the point of this divestment would be appreciated. Personally, I think it would be better to raise this money for alternative energy research rather than holding it hostage until MIT divests.

Liv over 8 years ago

Three points for this group to think about:

1) The fossil-fuel companies are primarily the large energy companies, and these organizations are the ones making the biggest investment in alternative energy. They are determined to remain the leaders in the energy market. Divesting these companies gets rid of the solution along with the problem.

2) Divesting in a group of companies is often in violation of the endowments fiduciary responsibility to invest the funds in the best interest of the beneficiaries.

3) Divesting removes the funds voice (votes) in the future decisions of the companies. It is easier to implement change when you are an owner.

Does the endowment really want to simultaneously lower investment returns and remove itself from decisions about the worlds future direction on energy sources?

RAM over 8 years ago

Evidently, measures proposed "in the right spirit" need no justification of their probable results.

Freedom over 8 years ago

5-- Indeed, sin always promises to achieve a good. Progressives. Are. Evil.

Chronological examples

- Nazis (progressives) killed Jews because Jews had privilege

- Communists (progressives) killed clergymen because they weren't Communist enough

- The West (progressives) eliminated apartheid in South Africa, causing murder of whites and blacks and destruction of prosperity and political order

Now progressives are invoking the destruction of apartheid in their fight against global warming. Like a drunk man, they lash out at an arbitrary target (MIT).

The chimps are coming for MIT now. Who's next? Nobody is safe from the devil.

It eludes me how to deal with the fact that humanity is mostly made up of murderous chimps.

Becky Romo over 8 years ago

For those who are still not sure how the tactic of divestment leads to combating climate change (comments 3, 4, and 5), I suggest checking out the materials provided by numerous groups asking for divestment. The article and the petition definitely do not address your questions or concerns. For example visit about why divestment and then look at the top for the FAQs too!