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Majority of undergrads support coal divestment

Those for divestment were less likely to approve of President Christina Paxson

About 52 percent of undergraduates support goals promoted by Brown Divest Coal, and roughly 12 percent of students who support Divest Coal disapprove of President Christina Paxson — more than the rate of disapproval in the general population, according to a recent Herald poll.

Students who support divestment were more likely to disapprove of the strategic plan, the document expected to guide Paxson’s presidential agenda. But the largest portion of students who gave opinions on both issues reported they somewhat approve of both the strategic plan and of divesting University assets from companies that significantly profit from coal.

Paxson indicated last spring that the University had assets in some of the 15 companies protested by Brown Divest Coal, but she did not specify which companies. The Corporation — the University’s highest governing body — may discuss the possibility of divesting assets from those companies at its meeting this weekend.

Members of Brown Divest Coal, whose cause was endorsed last semester by the University’s Advisory Committee on Corporate Responsibility in Investment Policies, met with Corporation officials last May. After receiving a recommendation to divest from ACCRIP, Paxson formed an ad hoc committee within the Corporation to further examine the implications of divesting from those coal companies.

Students in Brown Divest Coal said administrators have not bolstered their cause as much as the organization would like.

“Interactions with Paxson haven’t been supportive,” said Trevor Culhane ’15, a member of Divest Coal.

“I don’t see why the administration doesn’t simply divest from something so clearly harmful to the environment,” said Nathaniel Levy-Westhead ’17.

But not all students who supported divestment indicated that they found fault with the administration. About 40 percent approved of both Paxson and the divestment movement.

About 14 percent of students responded that they disagree with divestment.

“It’s not worth it. We don’t need to divest as much as we need to find a feasible, environmentally friendly alternative,” said Alex Cogut ’17.

Advocates for divestment said such a move would not only benefit the environment but also make economic sense.

“The University divesting won’t impact the coal industry, but as a grassroots movement it is important,” said Dawn King, a visiting assistant professor of environmental studies who has worked closely with Brown Divest Coal. “Other universities that divested from coal in recent years actually saved money,” King said.

Last semester, Paxson indicated that though she did not directly oppose divesting, she believed the cause merited more discussion and analysis.

“There are multiple points of view on the merits of divestiture, even among those who feel strongly that climate change is a serious concern,” Paxson wrote in a guest column published in The Herald.

The poll also showed males are likelier to disapprove of divesting than females, and humanities concentrators are likelier to approve of divesting.

“It’s a good cause, but pointing fingers is hard because we can’t really know who or what goes into the financial decision-making,” said Alexander Atkins ’17.

“The Corporation of Brown has the responsibility for decisions regarding socially responsible investments,” said Marisa Quinn, vice president for public affairs and University relations. A committee of experts in public policy and finance has been formed within the Corporation to work with members of the Brown community such as those of Brown Divest Coal, she said.

“There was a discussion at the May meeting of the Corporation, which included students from Divest Coal, and we anticipate that this will be an item for discussion at the October Corporation meeting,” Quinn said.

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