Thousands of MIT alumni, students, and faculty are calling on MIT to divest its $12.4 billion endowment from fossil-fuel companies, an endeavor that MIT alumnus Rajesh Kasturirangan PhD ’04 calls “a moral obligation comparable to college divestment from South Africa during the Apartheid regime.”
On Feb. 20, a group of ten MIT alumni calling themselves Alumni for Divestment at MIT (AD-MIT) joined divestment movements from 16 other universities to launch the Multi-School Divestment Fund. The fund gives alumni and other donors a place to divert their donations until their recipient university commits to divest from fossil fuels.
If MIT doesn’t divest by Dec. 31, 2017, donations made to the Institute through the Divestment Fund will be redistributed to participating universities that have by then divested.
AD-MIT member Kasturirangan and Dartmouth alum David Goodrich said in a Boston Globe op-ed that the fund “leverages the greatest power alumni hold: our annual giving capability.”
The AD-MIT group also has plans to increase divestment awareness on the MIT campus, according to Kasturirangan.
“AD-MIT will organize lectures and meetings in collaboration with other campus groups in the fall, including a series on ‘divestment for nerds.’ We will also be organizing divestment-related events during commencement,” Kasturirangan said.
AD-MIT’s efforts are complementing those of Fossil Free MIT (FFMIT), a student group that for the past two years has been putting pressure on MIT to divest.
FFMIT’s petition to President Reif, which calls on MIT to divest from fossil fuel companies, has been signed by over 3,000 MIT community members, including 70 faculty members and almost a third of the undergraduate population.
Although MIT has yet to respond to the petition, it has created a Climate Change Conversation Committee. The committee is charged with gathering input from the MIT community on the actions it would like to see the Institute take on climate change, and synthesizing this input into a final report to President Reif by commencement 2015.
FFMIT member Priyanka Chatterjee believes the Climate Change Conversation is a way for MIT to avoid addressing divestment directly. In an interview with The Tech she said that the “Climate Change Conversation waters down the issue of divestment, because it makes divestment a sub-issue rather the main issue.”
According to Roman Stocker, chair of the Climate Change Conversation Committee, the MIT Conversation on Climate Change will be looking at all actions MIT can take on climate change, divestment being one option considered. Stocker said last year that it wasn’t his place to state a position on divestment.
Priyanka said that it isn’t fair to offer divestment as an option equal to its alternatives, because the support for divestment is so much greater.
“Putting divestment on the same playing field as other options gives it the same clout as any other thing that doesn’t have as much support behind it,” she said. “So even though MIT is giving us a great opportunity to have a conversation about climate change, they are skirting around the idea of divestment.”