Why everybody wins if Washington University divests

| Michael Mazza | Class of 2016

As the movement to divest from fossil fuels and cut ties with Peabody Energy gains popularity, the University and the board of trustees must acknowledge not only the social importance of moving away from fossil fuel, but also the tremendous potential this movement has to improve the appearance, influence and popularity of the University. A university investing in fossil fuels is, at best, hypocritical. As over-consumption of fossil fuels remains one of the most pressing issues for the Millennial Generation, a university that invests in fossil fuels is only exacerbating the problems that its students will be forced to solve. This contradiction calls into question the duality of a private university—the theory that a university can effectively function as both a business and an investment in the future.

This decision becomes fairly simple, however, once the benefits of divesting become apparent. Washington University, with its high tuition, constant building projects and obsession with U.S. News & World Report rankings, often acts more like a business than a university. The University has pushed, very effectively, in recent years to become an attractive option for students around the country. The University has already used an immense amount of resources to appear environmentally conscious. The University has funded environmental programs and initiatives like the International Center for Advanced Renewable Energy and Sustainability, an Office of Sustainability, 15 LEED Certified Buildings, an emphasis on locally grown food, a plastic water bottle ban, free public transit cards and many more. When these invaluable programs are contextualized with fossil fuel investment, the University’s motive is called into question and these initiatives appear far less genuine. Now, if the University divests from fossil fuels, Washington University will be hailed by the media, climate activists, college students and college applicants as an environmentally conscious university in a state and region that is significantly more opposed to environmental initiatives than the East or West Coasts. Washington University will be put on the international map. This move could precipitate across the region as other Midwestern schools follow “The Harvard of the Midwest.” The University will become a beacon of sustainability locally, also. The Midwest, Appalachia and the Great Plains are the regions that suffer the most from unethical fossil fuel extraction including hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and mountaintop removal coal mining. The University will gain esteem and respect in a way no new building could ever provide.

So, Chancellor Wrighton, board of trustees, Washington University faculty, staff and students, the ball is in our court. Let’s make a name for ourselves.

  • John

    These environmental activists are out of touch. Peabody is committed to helping Washington University grow and thrive. Without our corporate sponsors, this school would be unable to provide scholarships to students from low income students.

    Washington University has an endowment of nearly 6 billion dollars. A very large portion of the endowment comes from corporate donors.

    Chancellor Wrighton – please ignore these out of touch activists. Most of these activists won’t have much disposable income to donate to Wash U. anyway. Ignore them and woo the big money corporate donors.

  • Peabody Scholar

    Peabody Scholars that will no longer attend Wash U will not win…

    • Anonymous

      The financial aid office has confirmed that they will support those scholarships regardless of outcome.

  • Danilo

    To me the issue is about academic liberty. Having someone in a position of extreme influence that helps to choose the direction of the university have a financial incentive to move research away from renewable energy and the adverse effects of fossil fuels contradicts the fundamental mission of a university. Corporations have a legal right (and actually an obligation) to pursue profits and universities have a moral right to freely investigate solutions for the future. The current marriage of these two institutions through Gary Boyce’s chairmanship needlessly problematizes the research incentives of WUSTL to a point where it endangers the moral standing of the university.

  • Ronald Reagan

    our endowment doesnt win…

  • anonymous

    what do you mean by “divest from fossil fuels”? at this point in time a university cannot function solely on renewables so cutting out fossil fuels would look like no energy… how is supporting research for renewable energy and cleaner ways to use fossil fuels not a divestment from traditional fossil fuels??

  • Go Peabody

    Stupid kids. Get off the bandwagon. Also learn how to write an editorial. This piece just confirmed to me that you have no idea what you all are talking about.

  • Anonymous