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Paxson confirms investment in coal companies

A University advisory committee will likely recommend divestment from coal companies

President Christina Paxson acknowledged for the first time that the University is invested in some of the 15 major coal technology companies targeted by the Brown Divest Coal Campaign at a meeting with the members of the campaign, said University officials and students present in the discussions.

The Advisory Committee on Corporate Responsibility in Investment Policies is currently reviewing those investments and will likely recommend the University divest from coal companies, said ACCRIP member and Senior Lecturer of Engineering Christopher Bull ’79 SCM ’86 PhD’06. ACCRIP will meet tomorrow with Paxson and Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Beppie Huidekoper.

Members of the Brown Divest Coal Campaign, which launched in September and aims to encourage the University to withdraw investments from major coal companies, met with Paxson during her office hours Feb. 12. Acknowledging that the University has investments in coal, Paxson told the group she was waiting on ACCRIP’s feedback before deciding how to handle these investments, said Katie Cohen ’13, who was present at the meeting. Paxson told group members that she “had been thinking a lot about (the) campaign,” Cohen added.

Though Paxson did not specify which of the five coal mining companies and 10 utility companies are part of the University’s investment portfolio, she indicated divestment from coal “would be a feasible thing for the University to do,” said Divest Coal member Emily Kirkland ’13.

Vice President for Public Affairs and University Relations Marisa Quinn confirmed the University’s financial involvement with coal companies but downplayed the size of these investments in an email to The Herald.

“Brown has less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the endowment invested in a small number of the companies cited by the Brown Divest Coal student group, or less than $2 million,” Quinn wrote. “We will communicate the outcome once the ACCRIP has made a recommendation and a final decision has been made.”

Following her meeting with ACCRIP tomorrow, Paxson will decide whether to recommend divestment to the Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, which will make the final decision on whether the University should divest, Bull said.

The conversation around divestment from what Brown Divest Coal calls the “filthy 15” was previously complicated by the University’s lack of a formal acknowledgement of its investment in these companies. But Bull said ACCRIP does not need absolute knowledge of University investments to make recommendations about the companies to which the University should avoid financially ties.

“That’s not how we make the decision,” he said. “We certainly can find out how many of those companies we have direct investments in, but typically that’s not public knowledge and that’s not something that we would probably make public.”

ACCRIP previously recommended divestment from HEI Hotels and Resorts following accusations the company violated legal labor standards, as well as “companies whose business activities can be shown to be supporting and facilitating” genocide in Darfur, according to the committee’s website. After the University divested from HEI, institutions including Yale, Penn, Vanderbilt University, Princeton and Harvard also announced they would not reinvest in the company.

When Brown Divest Coal presented to ACCRIP last November, the committee voted to draft a formal recommendation endorsing divestment from coal. But Kirkland said many members of Brown Divest Coal are frustrated with the pace of the conversation around divestment.

“The process as a whole has been taking a while and we’d like to see it moving more quickly,” she said.

Following their meeting with Paxson last month, Divest Coal continued holding public demonstrations to build pressure on University officials, leading a protest on the Main Green Monday. Addressing an audience of 40 to 50 students, group activists led call-and-response chants and held up construction paper to form a large, orange X logo, the symbol of the environmentalist Fossil Free campaign with which the group is affiliated.

Though they said they are excited to move forward with the campaign, many members of Brown Divest Coal said Paxson’s admission did not surprise them.

“I think that we all knew that the likelihood of us being endowed in one of these companies was extremely high because it’s the status quo, and right now we haven’t been shifting our status quo,” said Lucy Bates-Campbell ’13, one of the organizers of yesterday’s protest.

“We knew that if we weren’t invested that the University would have said so earlier,” Kirkland said.


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