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NYU caves to students, divests from fossil fuels

‘This is a huge win for climate justice,’ student group stated

New York University recently announced that it will forego investments in any company primarily engaged in fossil fuel extraction or discovery.

William Berkley, chair of the school’s board of trustees, announced the decision in a letter to Sunrise NYU, the school’s chapter of an environmental activist group.

The College Fix reached out to Sunrise NYU twice for comment but did not receive a response.

“New York University and Sunrise NYU both recognize climate change’s threat to our community and the world, and we recognize and appreciate that the combustion of fossil fuels is a significant contributor to climate change,” Berkley stated in his letter.

“New York University commits to avoid any direct investments in any company whose primary business is the exploration or extraction of fossil fuels, including all forms of coal, oil, and natural gas, and not to renew or seek out any dedicated private funds whose primary aim is to invest in the exploration or extraction of fossil fuels,” Berkley wrote.

His letter references a February 28 meeting involving Sunrise NYU and the board that “provided a significant opportunity for us to understand each other better.”

Previously, $139 million of NYU’s $3.4 billion endowment was invested in fossil fuel companies, according to an NYU Fossil Fuel Divestment Working Group report. The move means reinvesting about 4% of the endowment.

“This is a huge win for climate justice!” Sunrise NYU stated on X.

Sunrise NYU believes the decision to divest is demonstrative of the “power” of student organizations, according to its website.

“For years the university dragged its feet, refusing to commit to divestment. . . . We organized students, faculty, and staff, and through our collective power, drove NYU to be on the right side of history,” the organization wrote.

NYU joins more than 200 educational institutions that have divested from the fossil fuel industry in recent years, including Brown, Columbia, Georgetown, and Yale, according to the Global Fossil Fuel Divestments Commitment Database.

The decision to divest from fossil fuels reverses the board’s decision in 2016 to continue investing. Despite the NYU Senate passing a resolution in favor of ending fossil fuel investments, the Board of Trustees elected against divestment, according to a 2016 letter from Berkley and then-NYU President Andrew Hamilton.

The board did not consider investing in fossil fuels as “mutually exclusive” to “alternative energy technology,” the letter stated. It argued there were effective measures against climate change. Even more, it would be hypocritical to divest from fossil fuel companies while at the same time using their services to “power and heat our campus and to transport our students and faculty,” according to the letter.

The 2016 decision came after the 2015 report released by the Financial Affairs Committee of the University Senate, which also recommended against divestment. The committee did not believe divestment could be accomplished in a manner consistent with NYU’s financial obligations.

The committee also voiced concerns over academic freedom. Supporting a specific stance on an issue of public policy could have a “chilling effect” on the freedom of faculty with different points of view, according to the letter.

“[S]upporting divestment is primarily a political action or statement that expresses the University’s opposition to the fossil fuel industry’s role in global warming or climate change – and there is not sufficient justification for such an action or for enactment of a policy of the University,” the report stated.

The Fix sent an email to Joseph Tirella, senior director of executive communications, asking what led to NYU’s recent shift in perspective, but did not receive a response.

MORE: Student group wants to ban ‘fossil fuel lawyers’ from law schools

IMAGE: NYU Sunrise/Facebook

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About the Author
Liam Siegler -- Gordon College