Committee on Investments and Social Responsibility responds to GU Fossil Free letter

Protestors put up a sign in Red SquareLate last week, the Committee on Investments and Social Responsibility replied to GU Fossil Free’s letter that the group submitted to President DeGioia January demanding that the University remove all investments in fossil fuel companies, but the Georgetown administration has yet to make a statement.

The CISR acts as an advisory body and is responsible for making recommendations about Georgetown’s shareholding policy to Georgetown’s Board of Directors.

In the letter, James Feineman, the chairman of the CISR, invites GU Fossil Free to begin a dialogue with the committee to discuss the merits of divestment.

“We have found engagement to be a more effective strategy than divestment. In previous years, we have often voted our proxies in shares of these companies to express our environmental and other concerns,” Feineman wrote. “We would be interested in continuing this dialogue together, and we would invite you to submit further specific support for pursuing a strategy of divestment rather than one of engagement.”

Feineman further recommend that GU Fossil Free submit proposals for a strategy of divestment instead of engagement. In an e-mail to the Vox, Feineman expressed the hope that these proposals would outline past examples of divestment being more effective than the University’s current practice of using the weight of the University’s finances to influence the practices of fossil fuel companies. “The statement we seek should ideally include a philosophical or theoretical framework supporting their argument that divestment is more appropriate than engagement in this instance, as well as specific examples of other instances where policies of divestment have been more successful than engagement within other contexts.”

Although members of GU Fossil Free believe that this response by the CISR is a sign of progress, they only see this as the first step in discussions with the administration, especially because the CISR only exists as an advisory board, a limitation that Feineman emphasized.

“Our deliberations form the basis for recommendations we make to the Subcommittee on Investments of the Finance and Administration Committee of the Georgetown University Board of Directors,” Feineman wrote. “ It is the Board, through the committee structure, which has the sole legal authority to direct to the investment policy of the university.”

GU Fossil Free, therefore, continues to request that administration officials themselves reach out to the group. Some members are even wary of the CISR’s response because Feineman seemed keen on continuing the University’s current policy.

Troy Miller (SFS’ 13), a member of GU Fossil Free was pleased with the CISR’s response, but worried that the committee might change the subject of the dialogue that Fossil Free is advocating.

“We’re very happy that CISR has responded, and we look forward to pursuing a dialogue with CISR, though it’s clear from their response that there’s still work to be done to make sure we’re having the same dialogue,” Miller wrote in an e-mail to the Vox.

Miller’s worries are not without reason, for Feineman also defended engagement when the Vox contacted him. “As long as it remains a shareholder, Georgetown has a voice to negotiate with and to exert pressure upon corporate management (often in concert with like-minded institutions),” Feineman wrote. “ Investors who divest can no longer directly affect company policy through shareholder activism. We have not come to these preferences lightly but rather as the result of decades of experience in exercising our corporate franchise for socially responsible ends.”

Members of GU Fossil Free still wish to talk with the CISR, but they will continue to use other methods to attract the attention of the administration itself.

“Communicating with CISR is a good first step, but we feel that, in order to find a solution, an open dialogue with the administration must be started,” wrote Sydney Browning (COL ’15) in an email to the Vox. “We have asked the administration to meet with us and hope that they will follow the board’s example. We’re also working on building a base of volunteers and are planning a rally in the future.”

Even though both Browning and Miller declined to reveal any specific information about future plans that Fossil Free has to promote divestment, they both believed that further student involvement would be necessary to encourage the administration to consider measures as direct as Divestment.

“We have over 1200 signatures at the moment for our petition,” Miller wrote. “We’re also prepared to move forward with a GUSA referendum this semester.”

Photo courtesy Sydney Browning

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