OPINION | Divestment conversation should follow Middlebury’s model

Bobby Becker, Contributing Columnist

(Gabe Darley)

A growing number of student activists are pushing Tulane University to refinance their $3 billion endowment away from fossil fuels. These activists hope our school will follow in the footsteps of Harvard University, Boston University and the University of Minnesota, among others who have all pledged to divest from fossil fuels earlier this semester. 

Globally, hundreds of institutions have divested a total of $40 trillion from fossil fuels, ultimately weakening the corporations most responsible for global climate change.

Tulane stands in an incredibly unique position in relation to the climate crisis. Though we are a Southern school with strong ties to donors and firms who have amassed their wealth off oil, we have also watched our city and community suffer immensely from human-induced climate change.

A few short months ago, students evacuated campus before and after Hurricane Ida. The storm ravaged New Orleans’ physical and social infrastructure, displacing thousands

Though you cannot directly link any individual storm to climate change, carbon emissions substantially increase the frequency and intensity of hurricanes. Hurricane season will only become more disruptive to our community if humanity continues to pollute its atmosphere with greenhouse gases. 

Likewise, Louisiana’s economy relies on the gas and oil industry, but that same industry comes with vast repercussions. The 2010 oil spill directly killed 11 people and exposed hundreds to toxic chemicals. Furthermore, the spill’s damage on the fishing and tourism industries of the Gulf Coast culminated to $22.7 billion U.S. Though some improvement in drilling regulation has been made, oil spills still regularly wreak havoc on Louisiana’s coastlines. 

Our state has chosen to ignore the industry’s drawbacks and continues to subsidize and support fossil fuels. Recently, Louisiana helped the Biden Administration face legal challenges to auctioning off our coastlines to oil drilling firms. This move exemplifies the state’s desperate attempt to squeeze short-term value out of a dying and destructive industry. 

Tulane junior Sahil Inaganti helped craft a student government resolution urging Tulane University to divest from fossil fuels. He is hopeful that just as other schools have catalyzed the divestment movement at Tulane, Tulane’s divestment would prompt further institutions to reconsider their own investments in non-renewable energy. 

“A lot of Southern institutions have not said anything about divestment … Tulane could be the first to lead the charge down,” another resolution author Avik Hegde said. 

As a leading intellectual institution and economic powerhouse, our school’s divestment could certainly act as a referendum of whether or not our state should begin transitioning into a new green economy.

Last Tuesday, the Undergraduate Student Government passed their divestment resolution unanimously. Though a win for the Divest Tulane movement, USG passed two similar bills in the last decade. Students have signaled their support for divestment again and again; unfortunately, they do not hold the levers of power.

Divest Tulane must expand from a student-only initiative if they wish to create any actual change. Proper divestment is an incredibly complex initiative which requires deep communication between activists and administration. Storming into Michael Fitts’ office sounds incredibly fun, but those short bursts of radical passion only serve to divide the two sides.

Middlebury College’s divestment movement can serve as a great model for activist and administrative cooperation. Nine years ago, the college launched a formal process for investigating their endowment’s potential divestment from fossil fuels. Under the conditions activists approached the issue holistically and with serious rigor, the university hosted panels and events involving administration, students and experts. 

By 2019, their collaboration helped Middlebury College devise a plan phasing out fossil fuel investments while remaining loyal to their fiduciaries. Patrick Norton, Tulane University’s Chief Operating Officer, helped facilitate those discussions during his time at Middlebury College as their Vice President of Finance. He may be open to conducting a similar conversation here.

The Tulane Divestment Committee has already begun recruiting faculty into their movement. It must continue to expand its actions outside of just rallying for more student support if it is to see any real success. Polls and petitions are an admirable starting point, but our administration already knows its student body is in favor of progressive environmentalism. 

Some in the committee have suggested pushing for divestment resolutions in the faculty and graduate student government. This would be a great step in effectively showcasing that divestment has support from our entire community. However, the committee also must remember pressure is just one aspect of affecting change, not its totality. 

The administration must also do more to engage with activists. Rather than sending out occasional statements on our current environmental stances, they should cultivate more transparency around our endowment and our less-than-pretty reliance on the fossil fuel industry.


Like Middlebury College, Tulane University should catalyze campus-wide discussion into divestment, using it as an opportunity to promote academic inquiry. If, as the administration currently claims, keeping stake in fossil fuels is truly the best way to combat climate change, they should have nothing to fear from a thorough investigation into the possibility of divestment. 

You can get more involved in the divestment movement @tu_sustain on Instagram or join the divestment committee GroupMe using the following link.

Leave a Comment