Brown Divest Coal: An honest vote on divestment

Guest Columnist
Friday, October 18, 2013

In one week, the University’s Corporation will meet, discussing and likely voting on whether the University should continue to profit from any of the 15 largest coal companies it’s currently invested in. This decision is critical: for those suffering in communities impacted by mountaintop removal, for the millions who will be hit by hurricanes and natural disasters worse than Katrina and Sandy and for the global community that will have to respond to the damages that will be wrought because we have changed the temperature and composition of our atmosphere.

This decision will also have implications for our community’s trust in Brown to reflect our values. Will the statements from our faculty members, researchers, University committees, student groups and petition signatories be heard? Will we take this opportunity to act seriously, or will we be another Harvard, too committed to the status quo to take action against the worst environmental disaster humanity has ever faced? Are we “Boldly Brown” — or something else?

With such an important vote, the integrity of the Corporation’s decision-making process must be respected. As the Brown University Conflict of Interest and Commitment Policy reads, “All decisions and actions taken by members of the Brown community in the conduct of University business shall be made in a manner that promotes the best interests of Brown University. Members of the Brown community have an obligation to address both the substance and the appearance of conflicts of interest and commitment and, if they arise, to disclose them to the appropriate University representative and withdraw from debate, voting or other decision-making process where a conflict of interest exists or might arise.”

According to this policy, several members of the Corporation who have clear connections to some of the 15 coal companies considered for divestment should recuse themselves from any “debate, voting or other decision-making process” concerning divestment from coal. These members are:

Brian Moynihan ’81 P’14: Moynihan is on the University’s Board of Trustees and is president and CEO of Bank of America, which as of Aug. 14 has $1 billion worth of holdings in 14 of the 15 companies in question.

Richard Friedman ’79: Friedman is on the Corporation’s Board of Fellows and is head of the Merchant Banking Division at Goldman Sachs, which as of Aug. 14 has $1.1 billion invested in 14 of the 15 companies that Brown is considering for divestment.

Steven Cohen P’08 P’16: Cohen is on the Board of Trustees, and is the founder and hedge fund manager of SAC Capital, which as of Aug. 14 has $33,597,000 in holdings in 11 of the 15 coal companies.

Theresia Gouw ’90: Gouw is a member of the Board of Fellows and a partner at Accel Partners. Accel-KKR, a partnership between Accel Partners and KKR, is a cofounder of globalCOAL, a global coal trading platform. Licensed users of globalCoal include Arch Coal, Peabody Energy and Cloud Peak, all companies targeted for divestment.

Todd Fisher ’87 P’17: Fisher is on the Board of Trustees and is KKR & Co. L.P.’s global chief administrative officer. Accel-KKR is a cofounder of globalCOAL.

We recognize these five members may not be the only Corporation members with ties to the 15 coal companies — there may be other connections we are currently unaware of. This vote is of utmost importance to our community. It is a statement of who we are as a university and what our values are, and thus we ask that any Corporation member with ties to these 15 coal companies make a public statement of recusal from all decision-making processes hereafter concerning divestment from coal — including voting.

Because the minutes from Corporation meetings are only released 25 years after the fact, a public statement is the only way the community will know that the vote on divestment has been made with Brown’s best interests in mind. If public statements of recusal are not made — and the Corporation votes against divestment behind closed doors with personal and company profits at stake — any notion that the Corporation can be trusted to make decisions on behalf of our community will be lost.

Our university is more important than company profits and personal gain, and we ask that the members of the Corporation respect that. Moynihan, Friedman, Cohen, Gouw, Fisher and any other Corporation members with ties to these companies: We’re waiting for your statements of recusal.

The Brown Divest Coal Campaign is asking Brown University to divest from any holdings it has in the 15 largest coal companies in America and is hopeful for a yes vote on divestment this October.


  1. Brown Divest Coal says:

    A fully cited version of this article with the accompanying research can be found at

  2. Great article! Way to go BDC. Hope Paxson and her crew do the right thing. In 25 years it will be much too late.

  3. Tom Bale '63 says:

    Brown Divest Coal has taken its place alongside over 300 other student groups who refuse to let the shameful lack of congressional leadership prevail over the crisis of global warming. Their latest statement above is a brilliant strategic move to gain a fair Corporate vote on the coal divestment issue. The irony is these Brown students have reversed their role on campus. On this environmental catastrophe evolving in less than a generation they have become our teachers, and we the students. Does the Corporation and President Paxson have the wisdom to recognize the enlightened argument they make for Earth’s future? And does Brown have the courage to buck the myopic point of view of many of our sister universities? Personally, I have pledged $20,000 to support global warming research in the Center for Environmental Studies only if Brown will do what is right.

  4. If they are allowed to vote at the meeting, we should organize a larger protest to ensure that we are not yet another Harvard when it comes to divestment (and other social justice issues, like the respecting of transgender rights.)

  5. Great work, Brown Divest Coal!

  6. Why is this in the opinion section? Why was Brown Divest Coal forced to write a letter about this? As a newspaper, isn’t this something the Daily Herald should be investigating and reporting on its own?

  7. bluestockings magazine says:

    Interview with Ruby Goldberg of Brown Divest Coal Campaign

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