University academics publicly oppose Divestment Working Group Report in open letter

Gianni Fennings 30 May 2018

In a recently published open letter, academics and other senior members of the University have decried what they believe to be a “highly unsatisfactory” Report issued by the Divestment Working Group.

The divisive Report, which was presented to the University Council in early May, was denounced by academics in the letter as a set of “transparent” attempts to “thwart the direct and positive action of divestment” and to replace it with “distant and ill-defined proposals”. The letter, which already has over 95 signatories at the time of writing, demands the University commit to “full divestment” in the space of five years.

The letter focuses on a number of “unsatisfactory aspects of the Report”, beginning with an attack on the supposed assumption that “change is something that can be left to the future”. It demands a transition to renewable energy that is both “rapid and comprehensive” and argues that a longer time-frame would be a “betrayal” of both current and future generations.

The letter goes on to stipulate the University make explicit the extent of collaborations with companies and the nature of its investments. By not making such interests clear, the authors of the letter conclude that the decisions of the working group may be “seriously” compromised. They request that the University Council begin an annual index for all of its investments and current partnerships with the fossil fuel industries.

A major focus of criticism was the “insulting” claim that those supporting divestment “do not understand” the ways that the university carries out indirect investment. The letter asserts that “it is obvious to everyone that institutions invest in this way”, contending that the use of third-parties is a method of “conveniently” distancing the University from “the ethical consequences” of their investment choices.

Similarly, the letter attacks the Report’s suggestion that the University subscribe to the United Nations’ ‘Principles for Responsible Investment’. It labels the UNPRI a “smokescreen that protects institutions from confronting their ethical responsibilities” and argues that it can offer “no substitute” for full divestment.

Pointing to other Higher Education Institutions in the UK that have effectively carried out divestment, the letter questions the Report’s implication that enforcing divestment through third parties will be expensive and hard to achieve.

It calls on the Council to recommend full divestment from fossil fuel assets.

Neither the working group Report nor the recent eviction from Greenwich house have discouraged Cambridge Zero Carbon society from pursuing direct action in their sustained efforts to pressure the University to divest completely. Only yesterday the group orchestrated a protest on multiple bridges across the Cam that witnessed banner drops, flares and chanting demonstrators.