54% of faculty survey respondents believe MIT should divest from fossil fuel companies

35.4% of respondents do not believe MIT should divest, 10.5% of respondents have no opinion

MIT Divest distributed an anonymous survey to faculty members on the Institute’s use of its endowment in the fossil fuel industry. MIT Divest press coordinator Nicole Cybul shared the results of the survey in an email to The Tech.

The survey was sent to approximately 1,620 faculty members via email between October 2020 and January 2021, with the majority of faculty receiving the email in January. 285 faculty responded to the survey, for an estimated response rate of 17.5%.

The survey asked faculty for their department number and whether they had an opinion about MIT divesting from fossil fuel companies in its endowment. If they answered that they had an opinion, they were asked whether MIT should divest from fossil fuel companies (yes or no) and to optionally share a reason informing their stance.

30 respondents (10.5%) indicated that they had no opinion “about divestment from fossil fuel companies in the MIT endowment.”

Of the 255 respondents who indicated that they did have an opinion, 154 (60.4% of those with an opinion, 54% of all respondents) responded that MIT should divest from fossil fuel companies. The other 101 respondents (39.6% of those with an opinion, 35.4% of all respondents) who had an opinion about divestment responded that MIT should not divest from fossil fuel companies.

Cybul wrote that the survey data gives MIT Divest “some insight into how much faculty support there is for divestment,” which is useful for “talking with the MIT administration” about MIT Divest’s requests and “using faculty support to [MIT Divest’s] advantage in pushing for divestment.”

Those who responded that MIT should divest from fossil fuel companies named climate change as the primary reason. Many also wrote that MIT could demonstrate leadership and potentially influence other organizations by choosing to divest, with one respondent writing that “MIT should be a leader, not a follower.”

“Fossil fuels are a primary cause of the climate crisis, and fossil fuel companies have spent decades denying or funding the denial of human-caused climate change,” wrote one respondent.

Another wrote, “Set an example. Have our institutional actions match what we teach. Support the transition to renewables.”

Survey respondents who answered that MIT should not divest from fossil fuels wrote that fossil fuels will still be in use, regardless of MIT’s actions, that MIT should work with fossil fuel companies to pursue more sustainable technologies, and that MIT should not be pressured into divesting.

One respondent wrote, “It’s better to engage in shareholder activism to ensure the boards give commitments about continuing that alternative energy investment. If we divest we lose all ability to do that.”

“MIT should make the most prudent investments in legal activities, and avoid being jerked around by the media and political pressure,” another respondent wrote.

Respondents from both sides noted that divesting from fossil fuels was not necessarily a yes or no question, with one respondent writing “there is a continuum of concerns about fossil fuel companies. The question is posed as all or nothing. Those may not be our only options.”

Another respondent wrote, “The decision to divest or not should not, and cannot, be so simple and binary. There are traditional fossil fuel companies … who are making huge, company-wide shifts into renewable energies.”

The Undergraduate Association Committee on Sustainability distributed a separate survey to undergraduates during Fall 2020 to “get a clearer idea of which sustainability-related issues” undergraduates “know and care about,” according to the committee’s sustainability survey data report. 934 undergraduates, approximately 21.5% of the undergraduate student body, responded to the survey.

The survey included questions asking respondents to indicate their agreement with the statements “I care about MIT’s relationship with fossil fuel companies,” and “I believe MIT should commit to divestment from fossil fuels.”

Of the 771 respondents who answered the two questions, 16% either strongly disagreed, somewhat disagreed, or neither agreed or disagreed with the first statement, that they cared about MIT’s relationship with fossil fuel companies. 83.9% either somewhat or strongly agreed with this statement.

For the second statement, of the 771 respondents, 82.2% either somewhat or strongly agreed that “MIT should commit to divestment from fossil fuels.” The other 17.8% of respondents responded either unsure, somewhat disagree, or strongly disagree.

Update 2/5/2021: MIT Divest’s full report of the survey and its methodology may be found online here.