Yale’s Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility, known as ACIR, claims to be a resource for community voice and power. Instead, it is a bureaucratic obstacle that misdirects and suppresses that voice and power. Fossil Free Yale has been engaging with the ACIR for five frustrating years, but we’ve only recently learned that in 2013, at the beginning of Fossil Free Yale’s engagement, the ACIR’s chair, professor Jonathan Macey LAW ’82, was an alternate on the Hess Corporation’s board of directors. Hess is an international fossil fuel company. Fossil Free Yale believed it was working alongside the ACIR to build a more sustainable future in the face of a shared determination to fight climate change. We were wrong.
Assuming good faith, we presented at countless meetings, exchanged hundreds of emails, crafted dozens of memos, talked in offices, coffee shops and conference rooms — even cried in meetings from the urgency of the climate crisis — providing all the research, the facts, the precedents that we were asked for. All the while, the head of the ACIR quietly campaigned to be a leader of an energy company. But we’ve long been disillusioned about what the ACIR has the power or motivation to do. There are structural reasons why the ACIR cannot and does not serve the Yale community.
The ACIR makes recommendations to the Corporation Committee on Investor Responsibility, shortened to CCIR, which makes recommendations to the Yale Corporation. This convoluted configuration means the Yale community can never engage with the bodies that have actual decision-making power.
The ACIR has a kind of constitution for its decision-making process: a book called “The Ethical Investor: Universities and Corporate Responsibility” written by Yale professors and graduate students in 1969. Like the ACIR itself, “The Ethical Investor” is ostensibly there to help promote voice, opinion and ethical decision-making. In effect, it does the opposite. First, “The Ethical Investor” is supposed to address ongoing misconduct. But the ACIR’s standards make providing ongoing evidence a paradox: Once an article has been peer-reviewed and the ACIR has had time to discuss it, the misconduct is inherently in the past. Second, “The Ethical Investor” requires direct point-source misconduct incompatible with a problem like climate change. The ACIR’s defense of the fossil fuel industry on the grounds that consumers, not producers, actually emit CO2, ignores how energy markets and governments have been captured by fossil fuel lobbying. This is willfully naive to the point of gross negligence.
This summer, the ACIR recommended that Yale divest from assault weapons. In August 2018, the University announced it was adopting this recommendation. Yale’s administration would offer this as evidence of why the bureaucratic structure of an ACIR that makes recommendations to a CCIR that makes recommendations to a Corporation works, but we think it reveals precisely the opposite. A single Yale faculty member suggested assault weapons divestment to the ACIR last spring, and Macey, thinking it was a good idea, made it a reality.
Yale’s decision to divest from assault weapons shows that it believes in divestment as a tactic and tacitly admits the political nature of its endowment. We commend the University’s decision to take a moral stance in favor of gun control; at the same time, the process by which this divestment occurred reveals the fallacy that the ACIR somehow amplifies community opinion. Groups like Fossil Free Yale — which have been working with the ACIR for years and have passed resolutions showing support from 82 percent of the student body — have never been considered seriously for even the first step on the lengthy path to recommendation. We’re unsurprised that the ACIR supported the suggestion of a single faculty member to divest from assault weapons but ignores years of advocacy on the part of coalitional community groups to divest from fossil fuels and private prisons. Undermining the fossil fuel economy or the carceral state poses a much more radical disruption to systems of wealth and power.
In 2016, the ACIR convinced Fossil Free Yale to pursue a strategy of divestment from Exxon Mobil Corp. on the grounds that Exxon perpetuated climate denial. We agreed to pursue this reluctantly — it didn’t account for the unique culpability of the fossil fuel industry — because the ACIR implied it would it would be easy to win. After a year of producing evidence to the ACIR to bolster our case, the committee postured a readiness to make the recommendation. Then they met with Exxon executives who reportedly convinced them not to recommend divestment.
It’s not just Fossil Free Yale that has found the ACIR ineffective. Yale Students for Prison Divestment and Dwight Hall Socially Responsible Investment Fund also see the ACIR primarily as a buffer between students and the CCIR, the body with actual decision-making power.
This isn’t some sort of personal vendetta: We believe the ACIR is comprised mostly of good people with good intentions. But they — and the Yale administration — have failed us. With the world’s foremost climate scientists calling for an ‘unprecedented economic transformation’ to renewable energy in the next 12 years, we can no longer afford to remain stalled in an endless cycle of meetings with no hope of real progress. We need to transition from a fossil fuel to a renewable economy, a transition that is incompatible with Yale’s investments in the criminally culpable fossil fuel industry. Inaction is no longer an option.
Rachel Calnek-sugin is a senior in Silliman College.
Mikki Metteba is a first year in Branford College. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com .