Alumni: Divest from Wash. U. until Wash. U. divests from Peabody

Kady McFadden, Todd Zimmer, Jennifer Marienau (2010), Jeremy Pivor (2013), John Delurey (2012), Rachel Binstock (2013), Alex Kaufman (2013), Amy Plovnick (2012), Dan Cohn (2013), Adam Hasz (2012), Frank Bergh (2008), Rachel Lyons (2008), Henry Ordower (1967), Irene Ordower (1967), Martin Witchger (2011), Patrick O’Brien (2008), Joe Thomas (2007)

As alumni, we write to express our support for the student movement demanding that Washington University break ties with Peabody Energy. Despite a dirty reputation of social injustice and scientific misrepresentation, our alma mater continues to propagate the myth of clean coal and Peabody’s CEO Greg Boyce continues to sit on the University’s board of trustees.

We are proud beneficiaries and now-benefactors of Wash. U.’s tradition of academic rigor and collaborative discourse. The demands of the students camping at Brookings are not an affront to this tradition, but an affirmation of the very foundation of our shared WUSTL experience.

Therefore, we pledge to divest from the University, by suspending our annual contributions, until the University meets the demands of the students by divesting from fossil fuels and removing Boyce from the board. We encourage our classmates to follow suit.

Strength Through [An Inconvenient] Truth

The bedrock of WUSTL’s institutional credibility is conveyed in its motto of Per Veritatem Vis: “Strength Through Truth.” Washington University is an elite institution built on the highest standards of research, integrity and scholarship. Simultaneously, Peabody continues to fund and promote organizations that undermine scientific consensus. When asked in 2007 whether high atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are harmful, CEO Boyce replied, “I think the simple answer is we don’t know.”

Rather than lend credence to Boyce’s willful obfuscation of established science, the University would do well to listen to its own leaders speaking truth to power. “Human health and environmental sustainability are inextricably linked…Consuming less reduces greenhouse gas emissions cuts down on fossil fuel consumption and positively impacts air and water quality, public health, climate patterns, agricultural production and more,” as stated by Hank Webber, executive vice chancellor for administration, during the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative hosted by Wash. U.

Meanwhile, Peabody works to deliberately mislead the public about the science and implications of the crisis by funding the American Energy Security Study, which publishes stories attempting to contradict climate science and is affiliated with a slew of industry groups (including the American Legislative Exchange Council) that oppose climate science and science-based policy. Peabody’s behavior blatantly contradicts the University’s efforts to address climate change, including committing $30 million toward emission-reducing energy efficiency projects last spring and educating future leaders to confront these challenges.

Leading Together, Leading Alone

Perhaps the most telling fingerprint of a Wash. U. education is the willingness of our students to engage in critical dialogue and relationships across the campus. Our alumni graduated from the same experience as the students currently sitting on the quad—not as irrational ideologues, but as informed and inclusive collaborators. That’s why WUSTL alumni are so quick to embrace the call of Chancellor Mark Wrighton’s latest fundraising initiative: Leading Together, the largest campaign in school history, which has already raised over $1.459B. However, the chancellor’s outright dismissal of student concerns about Peabody could better be described as “Leading Alone.”

After five years of meetings with the chancellor, since Boyce’s appointment in 2009, dozens of on-campus events, debates and discussions and numerous Student Union resolutions, students have drawn a moral line in the fly ash: neutrality is not an option for the University any longer. This week’s sit should not be mistaken as an isolated act of youthful disobedience, it is the culmination of years of going through “the proper channels” only to collide with the coal train that runs through chancellor’s office. As alumni, many of us have been directly involved in these actions and conversations, while others have followed along from afar. Each time Peabody comes under scrutiny there has been a feeble justification from the University along with new excuses to delay meaningful action. Meanwhile, Peabody struggles to mask the stains of its long track record of social injustice by harming communities, mistreating its workers and corrupting democracy.

So, Why #DivestWUSTL?

Universities have historically been at the vanguard of divestment movements, and when it comes to divesting from fossil fuels, we are seeing that trend once again. Nine American colleges and universities have committed to pursue fossil fuel divestment and 21 American cities have made this commitment as well, divesting pension and retirement funds to join this growing movement.

For the sake of its reputation of academic rigor and collaborative discourse, the time has come for Wash. U. to cut its ties with Peabody. As alumni, we stand behind these brave students as they defend the reputation of our alma mater.

Call the Alumni Office today to divest from Wash. U. until Wash. U. divests from Peabody Energy.

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