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Faculty urge divestment in open letter to Reif

Language was drafted prior to Vice President Zuber’s call for faculty action

A group of 79 faculty members has signed an open letter to President L. Rafael Reif expressing their support for divesting MIT’s endowment from fossil fuel companies. The letter comes as the Climate Change Conversation (CCC) prepares to release its report to the community.

Simultaneously, yet apparently independently, 21 MIT student groups have signed their own open letter to President Reif advocating for “bold and immediate action” on climate change. The student letter includes divestment as one of several recommendations, alongside launching an “MIT Manhattan Project for climate science,” and improving sustainability on campus.

The faculty letter, too, notes that divestment should be taken as part of a broader set of actions; however, it does not discuss what those potential actions might be.

Professor Ian Condry, a signatory to the letter, wrote in an email to The Tech that “Divestment is the single, clearest, most powerful statement we can make that MIT takes climate change seriously,” and added that “divestment has to be part of a broader action plan” which includes “reduced emissions, reduced reliance on carbon fuels, and a carbon tax.”

“I’ve had several conversations with President Reif and other upper administration officials, and they have emphasized the need to do something ‘action-oriented,’” Condry wrote. “I couldn’t agree more. Divestment would help set us on the path to additional action.”

The letter specifically calls for the divestment of MIT’s endowment from fossil fuel companies; it does not explicitly discuss the role of oil companies or the fossil fuel industry in funding MIT research on campus.

Among the faculty who signed the letter was Associate Professor Scott Aaronson. “Signing this petition wasn’t an obvious choice for me,” Aaronson wrote. “I’m sensitive to the charge that divestment petitions are … a way for activists to feel morally pure without either making serious sacrifices or engaging the real complexities of an issue.”

However, Aaronson said that he decided to sign the petition after seeing that the organizers had “a clear-eyed understanding of what they were trying to accomplish and why.”

“They know that divestment can’t directly drive down oil companies’ stock prices, but it can powerfully signal to the world a scientific consensus that, if global catastrophe is to be averted, most of the known fossil-fuel reserves need to be left in the ground, and that current valuations of oil, gas, and coal companies fail to reflect that reality,” he wrote.

Professor Emeritus Noam Chomsky, who has spoken publicly in favor of divestment on several occasions, also signed the letter.

The faculty letter began to take shape after Professor Charles Harvey wrote to the MIT Faculty Newsletter in support of divestment. Initially, the faculty members who were contacted to sign the letter were those who had expressed support for divestment in the CCC’s Idea Bank. A full draft of the letter had already been written by the time Vice President Maria Zuber called on faculty to join the campus dialogue in the March/April Faculty Newsletter .

“The value we get out of MIT investments needs to align with our values. As faculty, we make those decisions all the time with our investments of time and energy,” Condry wrote. “Our hope is that MIT will do the same with our endowment.”

The student letter was organized by the UA Sustainability Committee, the Sustainability Subcommittee of the GSC, Fossil Free MIT, and the MIT Sustainability Club.

3 Comments
1
Climate Action over 2 years ago

To sign the faculty letter visit MITFacultyDivest.org, and to sign the student group letter visit MITClimateLegacy.org.

2
Paul Natsuo Kishimoto over 2 years ago

The article omits that Professor Alexander Slocum wrote a reply, also in the Faculty Newsletter, titled "Why MIT Faculty Should NOT Sign the Petition to Divest from Fossil Fuels."

Prof. Harvey's letter is here: http://web.mit.edu/fnl/volume/273/harvey.html

Prof. Slocum's letter, and an additional reply by Prof. Harvey are here:

http://web.mit.edu/fnl/volume/274/slocum.html

Whatever the response to their petition, I hope we can count on the continued participation of Profs. Condry, Aaronson and the other signatories as we work on "a broader action plan"perhaps by continuing to "discuss what those potential actions might be."

3
Pete over 2 years ago

So 79 out of over a 1000 faculty sign the petition, which to me is not an overwhelming percentage. Yes they are an active voice, but just being a voice/advocate for a certain course of action does not make that the best course of action to pursue. Prof Slocum raised a number of very important points that leads down different and likely more productive paths rather than just being another stunt. Making actual changes that do actual things would reflect better on the MIT tradition in my opinion.