Yale Students Urge University to Sell Fossil-Fuel Stakes

Yale University undergraduates voted overwhelmingly to urge the school to sell its holdings of fossil-fuel companies that are “contributing the most to climate change and associated social ills.”

The Yale College Council referendum concluded yesterday, with more than half of undergraduates casting ballots and 83 percent voting for divestment from major oil, gas and coal companies, according to a statement. The council, representing 5,300 undergraduates at the New Haven, Connecticut-based school, said it will present a position paper to the administration supporting the divestment proposal.

Students at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, backed a similar referendum last year as a campaign targeting divestment from Exxon Mobil Corp., BP Plc and about 200 other companies with the largest reserves of oil, gas and coal spread across colleges. Harvard, with the biggest university endowment in the world at $32.7 billion, rejected the proposal from students, as have other schools such as Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.

Harvard students linked to the divestment campaign this week disrupted a Bank of America Corp. recruiting event in Cambridge to protest the bank’s investments in coal companies. Students at New York University are holding an event tomorrow where alumni will call in to President John Sexton’s office to pressure the school to divest.

Yale has the second-largest college endowment, with assets of $20.8 billion, and has generated above-average returns over the past 20 years by expanding in alternative assets such as hedge funds.

Tom Conroy, a spokesman for Yale, said in an e-mail that the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility, which includes faculty and students, is “working on the question of fossil fuels” and could make a recommendation that would be considered by trustees overseeing the university.

Jonathan Macey, a law professor who chairs the advisory committee, wrote in the Yale Daily News on Nov. 15 that it “is our policy to recommend divestment only as a last resort, and then only if we thought that divesting has the prospect of producing something of benefit in the struggle against climate change.”

(Adds comment from Yale spokesman in sixth paragraph.)
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