‘It is in our interest to build a moral platform,’ said CPUC Resources Committee chair Blair Schoene

Editor’s note: The following story went to press in mid-May, before Princeton announced the Board of Trustees’ approval of next steps on dissociation from certain fossil-fuel companies, including those “participating in campaigns that spread disinformation about climate change” and “companies in the thermal coal and tar sands segments of the fossil fuel industry.” Read more in a May 27 announcement on the University homepage.

The Resources Committee of the Council of the Princeton University Community (CPUC) recommended that the University dissociate from fossil-fuel companies under certain conditions. The guidelines were sent to the Committee on Finance of the Board of Trustees May 10. 

At the virtual CPUC meeting in May, the Resources Committee, which considers divestment proposals, explained its four recommendations for dissociation in response to a proposal submitted over a year ago by Divest Princeton, a group of students and alumni. 

The committee recommended that Princeton should dissociate from fossil-fuel companies that “deny climate change and/or spread climate disinformation” and those in “the highest greenhouse gas-emitting sectors of the fossil-fuel industry.” For companies that don’t fall under the latter category, the University should “establish criteria for conditional dissociation from fossil-fuel companies that have not undertaken an acceptable path towards carbon neutrality.” 

Since those recommendations require further decision-making to set clear guidelines, the committee recommends that Princeton “create an administrative process and determine what expert input is needed to establish, implement, and sustain actionable criteria for dissociation.” It also notes that these decisions should be based on “current and prospective actions,” not past behavior. Resources Committee chair Blair Schoene, an associate professor of geosciences, explained, “We don’t feel it’s in Princeton’s interest to police the past actions of companies, but it is in our interest to build a moral platform for us to stand on with regards to these partnerships going forward.”

Schoene said the recommendations are based on moral and ethical grounds and take into consideration committee guidelines for divestment, including sustained interest on campus, contradictions with University values, and consensus on how the University should respond. Student support for the move was clear, he said, after an undergraduate referendum in November showed 82 percent of those responding supported divestment.

No timeline was given for when the Board of Trustees will announce a decision. In an April Daily Princetonian op-ed on next steps, Jim Matteo, vice president for finance and treasurer, wrote, “The Resources Committee’s recommendations will serve to inform the trustees’ decisions but will not determine them.” 

In a statement, Divest Princeton criticized the recommendations as “not enough.” “The recommendations announced on Monday [May 3] are the least Princeton can do,” the group said. “We call on Princeton to dispense with the committees and finally take action against this blatantly destructive industry.”