In recent months, Brown Divest Coal has been vocal with chants like “Brown take action, stop extraction!” ringing out across the Main Green. Since September, the group has persisted in protesting what it believed to be Brown’s investment in coal companies that contribute to unsafe environmental and labor practices. But changing policy is difficult when the University will not acknowledge change is needed. We urge administrators to enact clearer channels of communication about financial investment and engage with students on a more direct level about concerns over our fundamental values as a community.
Last semester, Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Beppie Huidekoper told The Herald she was “unsure” whether the University actually had investments in coal companies, and administrative response has remained largely quiet. Endowment details are not open to students or the public, and repeated requests from the Brown Divest Coal for details on the University’s energy portfolios have been met with silence or hesitation.
And yet, according to an article published Tuesday in The Herald, Paxson admitted during a February meeting with campaign members that the University has investments in coal companies. This is in troubling contrast to the silence on the issue that the administration has held since the campaign’s efforts began with the academic year. No public announcement was made, and the investment was only confirmed in an email to The Herald. Neither Paxson nor any other University official has identified which coal mining companies the University has investments in, though the email took care to specify Brown is invested in “less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the endowment” of the companies the national Divest Coal movement labels the “filthiest” 15 coal companies in America.
This investment is supposedly mitigated by the fact that it is “less than $2 million,” and the Advisory Committee on Corporate Responsibility in Investment Policies is expected to recommend divesting. But concerns remain regarding how the University approaches transparency. That Brown is involved with these companies — regardless of the ethical stance one takes toward them — should be something stakeholders in the University are privy to. We can debate whether we are consumers of the educations provided to us or integral parts of the institution who should help shape its future. But either way, we represent a substantial part of the University’s business model, and it is crucial students and others invested in Brown are aware of the causes, values and structures we tacitly support.
The University’s lack of communication with the community is unacceptable. Paxson stipulated that specific companies the administration is involved with will only be revealed after the ACCRIP recommendation, and the admission that we were invested at all only came after months of dedicated campaigning. While it is encouraging to see the administration take the passions of its students seriously and respond to calls for accountability, the reluctance to conduct open dialogue around this issue has disturbing connotations. Brown has divested from questionable connections before — tobacco and Darfur come to mind — and ACCRIP conducts reasonable, thorough investigations into the University’s investments. But the process has been long and opaque.
Navigating a bureaucracy takes time, but the University’s actions can set an example for other institutionss of higher education. Divesting from coal companies is an ethical, sustainable choice that shows commitment to our core values. But regardless of how the University responds to the specific question of coal, its commitment to transparency remains limited — an issue that must be resolved in the future.
Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editor, Dan Jeon, and its members, Mintaka Angell, Samuel Choi, Nicholas Morley and Rachel Occhiogrosso. Send comments to email@example.com.