This is an updated version of a story posted online Oct. 23, 2019.
A group of students and alumni have called for the withholding of donations to Princeton until the University divests its endowment holdings in fossil-fuel companies.
The group, which calls itself Divest Princeton, cited “the devastating effects of rapid climate change” in an open letter to President Eisgruber ’83 posted online to Medium Oct. 21. “Princeton admonishes its students to work ‘in the nation’s service, and in the service of humanity,’ ” the letter said. “We look to the University to embody the same ideal. Profiting from fossil fuels, at this point, is incompatible with acting in the nation’s service or the service of humanity.”
The group added that “by continuing to finance, and to profit from, fossil-fuel companies, Princeton’s investments undermine the crucial work done by students and faculty in laboratories and centers across campus.”
The University takes a different position.
“Because the University seeks to provide an open and unbiased forum for discussing and exploring the key issues of the day, Princeton maintains a general presumption against taking stands on political issues as an institution,” said Princeton spokesman Ben Chang.
Divest Princeton countered that “given what is now known about the active disinformation campaigns and political obstruction from fossil-fuel companies, to continue to provide financing to such companies is a political action.”
Princeton’s divestment policy includes a provision that requires “disassociation” from any company or group of companies whose policies or practices are so abhorrent to the community that a decision is made to divest, Chang said.
Eisgruber wrote in 2015, “If we believe that we should not be associated with a company or activity as a matter of our investment policy, then so too we ought to disassociate from it in all other aspects of our operations – we ought not to purchase products or accept gifts from it, nor should we form partnerships with it or facilitate its recruitment activities.”
Chang cited a number of connections between Princeton and energy companies. “The University purchases products from energy companies. Our scientists partner with them. Our students seek jobs with them, and we welcome their recruitment. We seek their advice on issues of sustainability. For this reason, energy companies do not meet the disassociation standard.”
Across the country, other colleges and universities have faced calls to divest from fossil-fuel companies. The University of California, Smith College, and Georgetown University are among the schools that have committed to divest.
The Resources Committee of the Council of the Princeton University Community (CPUC) considers issues related to the endowment and concerns about socially responsible investing. Anna Liebowitz ’09, one of the organizers of Princeton Divest, said the group decided to release the letter to gather support before deciding on future actions.
The Resources Committee last addressed a proposal to divest endowment investments from fossil-fuel companies in 2014-15, when it determined that the proponents had not met the necessary criteria.
Divest Princeton also said in the letter that its members stand in solidarity with “other movements to hold the University accountable, including the movement to withhold donations until the University implements Title IX reform.”
As of Oct. 23, 251 people had added their signatures to the letter online.
For the record: In an earlier version of this story, Brown University was incorrectly listed among the institutions that have committed to divest from fossil-fuel companies.