Socially-conscious students have begun pushing for the Institute to reevaluate how it invests its multi-billion dollar endowment fund. Sponsored by a group called GT Divest, students are circulating a petition calling for the Institute to divest from fossil fuels and other polluting industries.
The group, which has a heavy online presence, has a three part call to the administration, asking them to disclose, divest and reinvest.
“The Georgia Institute of Technology’s mission statement aims to ‘improve the human condition’ and acting on climate change will do just that,” reads GT Divest’s website.
“Our graduates are currently located across the globe and are fighting on the front-lines to solve the world’s most complex and challenging problems. We therefore ask the Board of Trustees to support the efforts of our students, staff, faculty, and alumni to divest from one of the most environmentally destructive industries accelerating climate change: fossil fuels.”
If the Institute chooses to follow the petition, it would have to begin disclosing what companies or funds the endowment is currently invested in. As of 2019, Tech has a 2.17 billion dollar endowment fund, and there is very little transparency regarding how that fund is invested.
The Institute would also have to remove investments from polluting industries. Colleges across the country in recent years have pushed to divest from fossil fuels, with Stanford, George Washington, Johns Hopkins and Cornell, among dozens of others, having partially or completely divested their endowment from fossil fuels.
Finally, if the Institute chooses to adopt the petition, it would have to work toward green investing, the practice of attempting to advance green industries through investing in them.
Various Wall Street investment funds have recently adopted this strategy in order to pursue additional social good as well as profit.
Overall, the divest campaign aligns with a larger grassroots climate movement, where groups like the Sunrise Movement and Extinction Rebellion have lead concerted efforts of protest and awareness.
Last spring, the Student Government Association (SGA) discussed two separate resolutions to call on the administration to divest the endowment away from fossil fuel industries. However, neither of these resolutions were passed by the SGA, following contentious debate and a survey of campus which returned results of a split student body, with around half of the students supporting divestment.
Students who opposed the resolutions pointed to the nature of the Institute’s relation with fossil fuel extracting companies. Many engineers that graduate from Tech go on to have careers within the industry, and some students were worried that divesting would endanger graduates’ ability to find work.
The Institute also recently renewed their contract for their fleet of diesel buses, which was met with resistance from the student body. Tech explained that due to the nature of the contract, however, it was not possible for the Institute to renege on the agreement and invest in a fleet of electric buses. The cost of acquiring new buses was also cited as a reason.
The divest movement has some similarity in technique to the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement targeting Israel. For example, they both attempt to enact a social change through withholding money from an entity. As this movement has been played out across college campuses, some denounce it as anti-Semitic while others laud it as an effort similar to the divest movement against apartheid South Africa.
It is nearly always a source of intense debate, and as common with divesting from fossil fuels, it is often argued that it could harm the relationship with the party being divested away from. Despite the debate, GT Divest believes that Tech, as a university that has always focused on the creating the next scientific breakthrough, we are capable of being a leader in the area of green investing and a champion of divestment of fossil fuels.
“We can choose to lead during this pivotal moment in human history, leveraging our culture of innovation and partnership, and make good on the commitments we have made to equity and social justice dating back to the civil rights movement,” reads the conclusion of the petition, which has over 340 student signatures so far.
To find out more about the organization and to read the GT Divest petition, visit https://sites.google.com/view/gt-divest-from-fossil-fuels/home.