NYU Community Threatens to Withhold Donations unless University Divests

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NYU Divest / maisa_nyc

October 27, 2015; Exchange Morning Post

As seen in the years-long dispute and lawsuit against Harvard University, it can be an uphill battle to convince some universities to divest from fossil fuels. One campaign from New York University may have found the golden ticket: threatening to withhold donations unless the university acquiesces.

NYU Divest, an organization comprising current students, faculty, and alumni, initiated its “No Divestment, No Donations” campaign this past weekend—NYU’s Alumni Weekend, which targets the university’s most productive group of donors. Currently, over 115 members of the NYU community have signed the pledge.

Costanza Maio, an alumna and a member of NYU Divest, said in an press release, “By signing this pledge, donors are telling NYU that we cannot in good conscience donate to the university so long as those donations can be used to support the fossil fuel industry.”

According to Maio, NYU indicated that last year, the university had $139 million in fossil fuel investments, nearly four percent of its endowment. The pledge document sways potential donors by noting that some percentage of their donation is going toward the university’s investment.

The campaign comes in time for an upcoming meeting with between the divestment group and the university’s Board of Trustees to discuss the issue of divestment. The meeting was promised on the condition that the university student senate voted in favor of divestment, which it did in April. Despite the consensus to divest within the senate,  a report created by an NYU senate working group found that divestment was impractical and financially damaging to the university.

We may have to wait and see if the campaign has a real impact on donations to the university, but the premise might certainly make a university think twice before ignoring its divestment activists. As we have seen from the recent Sweet Briar fiasco, the administration and board must consider the opinions and desires of its community, and apparently there is a consensus to divest.

“When NYU Divest meets with the board, we want them to understand that donors take this issue very seriously and want to see the university use its endowment in a responsible way,” said Priya Mulgaonkar, an alum and member of NYU Divest. “We realize that a sanction on the university is a strong action, but the urgency of climate change absolutely warrants it.”

In a town hall meeting last week, university president John Sexton made several statements about divestment. In response, NYU Divest created graphics fact-checking his comments. In one particular instance, Sexton is quoted at the town hall meeting saying climate “is not a problem that will be solved by one university or one nation,” implying that NYU’s divestment would not have the impact which that activists are hoping.

However, NYU could potentially be joining several universities that have already divested from fossil fuels, both domestic and abroad. As reported by NPQ, this list includes Stanford University, Australian National University, and the University of Glasgow.—Shafaq Hasan