Brown opts not to divest from coal, approves new strategic plan
OVER THE WEEKEND, the Corporation of Brown University decided not to divest from investments in the coal industry, drawing criticism from members of the Brown Divest Coal student campaign. Brown President Christina Paxson said the school is committed to addressing climate change through education and leadership in campus sustainability, noting that divestment is “not the right tool.”
PROVIDENCE – The Corporation of Brown University determined it would not divest from investments in the mining or use of coal this past weekend, opting to advance teaching, research and sustainability at the university instead.
The corporation – a bicameral body composed of a 12-member board of fellows and a 42-member board of trustees charged with governing the university according to its charter – has also approved a new 10-year strategic plan.
On Saturday, the corporation addressed the question of divestment in response to Brown Divest Coal, a student-led group. The issue was reviewed by Brown’s Advisory Committee on Corporate Responsibility in Investment Policy, as well as an ad hoc committee of the corporation composed of members with expertise in public policy, science, health and financial markets.
In a letter to the Brown community, Brown President Christina Paxson said the school is committed to addressing climate change through education and leadership in campus sustainability, noting that divestment is “not the right tool.”
“There is little doubt that we must reduce our reliance on coal,” Paxson stated. “But the practical reality is that today, coal is the source of approximately 40 percent of the world’s electricity and it provides needed energy for millions of people throughout the world. In many regions, there are serious technological impediments to transitioning away from coal.
“In addition, coal is used in the production of other products, such as cement and steel, which are central to the economies of both developed and developing countries.”
Students from the Brown Divest Coal campaign had previously identified five members of the corporation with connections to the coal industry.
Brown student Ruby Goldberg ’17, criticized the decision not to divest.
“This could have been a moment for Brown to step up as a leader in the fight against climate change,” Goldberg said in a statement. “Instead, the administration chose to continue supporting an industry that profits from wreaking havoc on front-line communities and destroying our chance for a sustainable future.”
Brown Divest Coal member Kari Malkki ’16, said deciding not to divest reflects a lack of commitment from the corporation to fight climate change.
“What’s the point of teaching about climate science or environmental racism if we won’t act on that knowledge?” he asked. “Today our administration was too timid to challenge the status quo, but we’re going to keep pushing them to stand for what is right. Until then, our ‘Boldly Brown’ motto sounds laughable.”
The corporation also approved a strategic plan this weekend built around four components: integrative scholarship, educational leadership, academic excellence and campus development.
The plan calls for targeted investments to attract and support the most talented and diverse faculty, students and staff; capitalizing on existing strengths; fostering rigorous inquiry and discovery across the disciplines; and keeping a Brown education affordable within a community marked by diversity of thought and experience.
Chancellor Thomas J. Tisch praised the plan as a guide to “achieving our greatest aspirations over the next decade and beyond.”
“The beauty of this plan is that it reflects the university’s core values of openness, creativity and collaboration,” he said, “and it positions Brown to attain ever higher levels of academic achievement by building on Brown’s strengths of interdisciplinary, integrative research and educational innovation.”
Developments include creation of a Primary Care and Population Health track for medical students and a commitment to pursue future growth by collaborating and partnering with private and public-sector entities in Providence and Rhode Island.
Some on the new initiatives that Paxson said would begin immediately include: launching a new Laboratory for Educational Innovation to support the development and analysis of online teaching content at the Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning and developing an expanded program to support summer internships and the Undergraduate Teaching and Research Awards.
The university also will commit $500,000 to defray summer earnings expectations for aided students who take internships or other educationally valuable summer activities that are uncompensated or poorly compensated.