Climate Change is our era’s defining challenge, but most of America’s universities are planning to sit this one out. Though students and faculty members at more than 400 colleges have called for administrators to divest from fossil-fuel energy companies, fewer than 20 have committed to doing so. Stanford recently divested from coal, but none of the other schools had endowments within the 150 largest in 2013.
The principal justification schools offer is that endowments should be reserved to advance an academic mission. As Cornell’s president, David J. Skorton, put it, “We must resist, in almost all cases, the temptation to manage these precious funds to further social or political causes, no matter how worthy.” Drew Gilpin Faust, Harvard’s president, said, “The endowment is a resource, not an instrument to impel social or political change.”