Students Debate Potential Benefits, Risks of Divestment on Cornell

Representatives from Cornell KyotoNow! argued in favor of divestment, while the Cornell Republicans argued against divestment...


By Erica Augenstein via the Cornell Daily Sun, 4/11/13

In a debate that drew an audience of approximately 100 people, students debated whether or not Cornell should divest its endowment from fossil fuels.

Representatives from Cornell KyotoNow! argued in favor of divestment, while the Cornell Republicans argued against divestment.

Those in favor of divestment said the environmental damage resulting from fossil fuels has had a large, negative impact on marginalized communities.

“Cornell must lead the way to a sustainable future. This is a very powerful way to expose injustices,” said Alyssa Tsuchiya ’13, member of KyotoNow! and former Sun associate design editor.

Members of Cornell Republicans, however, said they are concerned about the impact divestment could have on Cornell’s endowment.

“Divestment would shift our investment further away form areas that are more economically efficient. … Cornell’s ability to provide services is predicated on an endowment,” said Julius Kairey ’15, a member of the Cornell Republicans.

Members of the Cornell Republicans added that divestment would lessen the ability of Cornell to provide funding to the University.

“It will damage the fundamental research and the scholarships we have,” said Kyle Ezzedine ’14, treasurer of Cornell Republicans.

Aubree Keurajian ’15, vice president of KyotoNow!, said students are not asking Cornell to completely divest from all fossil fuel companies. She added that the proposal students presented to administrators was more lenient than those pitched to other universities.

“We are not talking about 100 percent divestment now — which is much more generous that other university divestment programs,” she said.

Keurajian added that the effects of divestment on the endowment are still unknown.

“Our investment office has not performed a study on the effects on the endowment,” she said.

The debate concluded with two speakers: Greg Pitts, an investment advisor who focuses on sustainable investments, and Darrick Evensen grad, graduate student trustee.

Contrary to what Cornell Republicans argued, Pitts said he believes the effect of divestment on the endowment would be minimal. He said the energy sector usually takes up about 10 percent of a portfolio, so divestment would “only maybe contribute to one percent of the overall endowment.” He also said that reinvestment could make lost portions of the endowment up.

Pitts added that divestment is important in a political context.

“It wouldn’t make a difference on the stock price if you divest; what is important about the divestment movement is raising a public and political discourse about climate change,” he said.

Although Evensen said that he is “agnostic” about the issue, he said other members on the Board of Trustees, who have experience in investment, do not recommend divestment.

After the debate, some students responded to issues raised by speakers.

Anna-Lisa Castle ’13 said she thinks the anti-divestment side debated with incorrect assumptions of what divestment supporters were advocating for.

“It seems what we are asking for, what our timeframe is and what our goals are have been somewhat misconstrued,” she said.

Castle added that the debate highlighted contrasting perceptions of divestment.

“This debate epitomizes where the administration is coming from and where we are coming from, that is reflected in Skorton’s statement as well,” she said. “[Supporters of divestment] are not asking to divest tomorrow, and we are not asking to replace investments infossil fuels with investments in renewable energy, but it seems that these misconceptions are central to their argument.”

Alex Pruce ’13, a member of the Cornell Republicans, said the debate was important because it allowed members of the Cornell Republicans to understand exactly what divestment entails.

“I would say the Republicans want to get involved in the debate because there is a misunderstanding of what divestment entails,” Pruce said.

Overall, Castle said she thought the debate was positive.

“I think the debate was really good and healthy, and it was important to get arguments on the table. There is clearly a lot of passion on here,” she said.

Likewise, Pruce said the debate was carried out well.

“I think that both sides did a very good job at establishing what their positions were. It didn’t divulge into something that was like a spat,” Pruce said.

Pruce added that the Cornell Republicans would support other measures to promote sustainability, and that he would support more focus on research into sustainable energy.

Paras Sanghavi ’13, however, said that the debate felt unproductive at times.

“It felt a little unproductive at times. … I feel that there wasn’t enough talk about how divestment will hurt the endowment.”

Mona Aditya ’14 said she was disappointed with some of the Cornell Republicans’ arguments.

“I feel like [the Cornell Republicans] picked a few statements by the campaigners and drew completely wrong and unintelligent interpretations out of them to refute the campaigners. They also did not have as much research on the trustees as the campaigners did,” Aditya said. “The quality of criticism could have been better with knowledge on campaign’s details and updates. They would have sounded less repetitive.”

Views expressed in News posts may not be those of Cornell University. No endorsement is implied.

Views expressed in News posts may not be those of Cornell University. No endorsement is implied.