Op-ed: Fossil Free Stanford urges students to submit divestment standard recommendations

May 9, 2018, 5:00 a.m.

Stanford undergraduate and graduate students overwhelmingly voted in favor of fossil fuel divestment on the ASSU spring ballot. With 70.22 percent of the undergraduate population and 65.05 percent of the graduate population voting in favor of the university divestment, the students have made clear to the university that they reject Stanford’s current investments in the oil and gas industries (some students chose to abstain; only 18.7 percent of the graduate population and 14.02 percent of the undergraduate population voted not in favor of divestment). We now urge students to help strengthen our renewed push for divestment.

To offer context on this important vote, after a successful coal divestment ask in 2014, the divestment proposal for oil and natural gas was accepted by the University’s Advisory Panel on Investment Responsibility and Licensing (APIRL) on four out of five standards for divestment. With regards to the one standard that was not satisifed, the APIRL “concluded that it could not evaluate whether the social injury caused by the fossil fuel industry outweighs the benefit it provides, and therefore did not recommend divestment.” The APIRL did not reject our proposal because it blatantly failed to pass one of the standards. Rather, the existing standards are so structurally flawed that the APIRL was not able to even make an evaluation on one of its self-defined standards — even though they were somehow able to make an evaluation when deliberating about coal.

Now, the University is asking for student input on how it will amend these standards. We urge all students to submit feedback on these forthcoming changes to our university’s investment standards. Specifically, the University would like students to respond to these two questions:

  1. How would you improve the University’s Statement on Investment Responsibility?
  2. How would you improve the processes by which the university considers requests for review of investment responsibility issues?

Fossil Free Stanford believes that Stanford’s current investments in fossil fuel industries contradicts its mission “to promote the public welfare by exercising an influence in behalf of humanity and civilization.” In addition, the evidence in favor of divestment is clear. Fossil fuel companies have known about their role in climate change since the 1980s, and they actively suppress this information through funding climate denial. Additionally, not only will divestment not harm our endowment’s financial outcomes, but fossil fuel assets are demonstrably bad investments and threaten to be stranded assets in the future. For those who are interested in further understanding Stanford’s positioning in terms of divestment, we have written and published two FAQ sheets (link to #1 and link to #2), as well as this comprehensive report.

Because we believe so passionately in the purpose and importance of Stanford divesting its endowment from harmful industries whose practices are incompatible with a livable planet, we are pushing to have our voices heard as the university reviews its investment standards. We would love you to join us. Our suggestion is to recommend to the APIRL that the university’s Statement on Investment Responsibility’s fourth criterion must be made more clear. The criterion is vague and undefined, making it close to impossible to evaluate, let alone assess in a way that is impartial. The link to submit your feedback can be found here.

The Stanford student body has spoken on this issue, and it is time for the university to listen.


—Jordan Payne ’20 and Fossil Free Stanford


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