VSA Council endorses twice-tabled divestment resolution

On Sunday, Feb. 24, the Vassar Student Assocation (VSA) passed a resolution, proposed by the Vassar College Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign in conjunction with the Vassar Greens, that supports divesting from fossil fuels. The vote was 23-1 to pass the resolution, with Vice President for Finance Alex Koren ’13 as the only dissenting vote. The resolution had undergone significant revisions after having been proposed to the VSA twice before and tabled both times.

The new resolution emphasized the symbolic nature of divestment, acknowledging that the “Council recognizes that Divestment would not have major economic impacts on the fossil fuel industries” while also describing divestment as an issue of “overriding social concern” and establishing divestment “over a reasonable time frame [that] would allow the College to avoid financial risk and loss.”

Among the Vassar Greens, the VSA’s decision has been met with optimism. Vassar Greens member Wanda Noonan ’16 emphasized the implications of this decision. “This means we have the student body’s support behind us… We’re presenting this as something Vassar students want. It’s something the whole community can get behind.”

This was echoed by Koren, who emphasized the powerful support for divestment that constituents expressed to many VSA Council members felt from their constituencies. “I know people who personally didn’t necessarily support divestment on council but they voted for it because they had such positive feedback from their constituencies… In order to accurately represent what the student body wanted, they were going to vote yes.”

Professor of Economics Paul Ruud shared his own opinions about divestment at the VSA Council meeting Sunday. Ruud spoke in favor of divestment and called for a plan offered by the environmental action group 350.org, which describes itself on its website as “building a global grassroots movement to solve the climate crisis.”

In reflection, Ruud stated, “What I said was, I am here to endorse the idea of divesting from 200 top carbon-reserves companies. This is a proposal that ‘350.org’ made and it’s on a site called ‘gofossilfree.org’.” Ruud continued by clarifying the details of the campaign. “The idea is very specific. It says what the 200 firms are, and it says within five years. It doesn’t say do it tomorrow.”

Divestment won’t ultimately have much of an economic impact on fossil fuel industries, but proponents believe that it will send a clear message. Vassar Greens member Erin Boss ’16 argues, “It’s not necessarily going to make an economic impact but that’s not the point. The point is to open up some conversation and to make our policy-makers aware that we are not in support of the continued extraction of non-renewable resources that are causing climate change.”

Noonan agreed with this argument, adding, “We’re seeing this as a social justice issue not just an environmental issue… Divestment is one step towards justice… The point is to send political ripples through the country.”

While many proponents of divestment see the VSA’s decision to pass the resolution as a victory, the process is far from over. The VSA’s decision is now factored into discussion with the Campus Investor Responsibility Committee (CIRC) who will make a recommendation to representatives of the trustees. As Koren explains, “The trustees are the ones with the actual power to divest… They have a committee called TIRC-Trustee Investor Responsibility Committee. They’ll take whatever recommendation CIRC gives them…and then they’ll come to a conclusion and decide whether they want to make a recommendation to the board to divest, whether they want to recommend the board not divest, or if they just want to not make it an issue at all.”

Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign Co-Coordinator Gabe Dunsmith ’15 expressed his hopes for the meeting with the trustees. “I hope the trustees are receptive. Realistically, I don’t expect them to jump on board immediately but I hope that they start looking into it so we can start the divestment process in May in their next meeting.”

Ruud emphasized the seriousness with which he expects the Board of Trustees to hear the Vassar Greens’ proposal.  “I think the Trustees are interested in what the students have to say and they will listen to it carefully.”

Ruud did note, however, that the opinions about the campaign are by no means unanimous. “There is some controversy here. There can be a variety of views as to what the costs of divestment are.”

Koren expressed skepticism about the future of the Vassar College Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign. He discussed previous movements for divestment. “In the past looking at other issues of divestment, for example, we had Sudan and South Africa; those were very much more clear cut. With Sudan, we can clearly see genocide going on, and it wasn’t even hard to divest because there weren’t that many companies there to divest from, whereas with this divestment campaign, it’s sort of a little more nebulous.”

Koren continued, “We were late to the game on Sudan and barely even got there. We had trouble getting on board with something so simple and straightforward. I just think getting on board with divestment is going to be very difficult.”

Koren also emphasized the pervading skepticism amidst the Board of Trustees. “If the trustees get any whiff or idea that this could harm the endowment in any way especially given we’re in a financial recovery, we’re doing the huge science project, and financial aid is costing us so much money, they’re going to be very hesitant.”

The prevailing opinion about divestment among the Vassar community remains unclear-even to divestment advocates. Ruud was unsure, stating, “I really don’t know. I’m waiting to see.”

Despite the uncertainty of the Divestment Campaign’s future, Dunsmith expressed excitement and optimism about Vassar’s potential to divest from fossil fuel industries. “This is Vassar’s chance to lead the way.”

One Comment

  1. What hypocrisy. When the students who voted for divestment personally divest from fossil fuels, then they won’t be hypocrites any longer. I don’t see that happening any time soon.

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