President Bollinger's Letter to Columbia Divest for Climate Change

April 23, 2016

To Columbia Divest for Climate Justice:

As you know, last Thursday evening, April 14, I offered to move up my meeting with Columbia Divest for Climate Justice (CDCJ) then scheduled for April 29.  I have not been willing to meet while the disruption of Low Library continued. Now that the protest has concluded, I renew my invitation to meet with representatives of CDCJ once a time and appropriate context can be set. The discussion should be informed by the fact that there have been recent recommendations from different segments of our community about the general issue of divestment and by the fact that there are agreed-upon deliberative processes in place for reaching decisions about divestment proposals.

More specifically, we now have a proposal from a group of faculty in the Earth Institute, which was sent to me and to Provost John Coatsworth, recommending divestment from coal companies and additional ideas for dealing with companies involved with other fossil fuels. On April 20, our Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing (ACSRI) shared a proposal on divestment from companies engaged in the exploration or development of tar sand reserves, a recommendation consistent with its earlier-stated “Stand Up for Science” approach. ACSRI also recommended that Columbia become a signatory to the CDP climate change project, which seeks high quality disclosure about firm-specific, carbon-related activity.

The mandate of ACSRI is to hear views emerging from our rich campus discussion and then recommend a course of action to me and to the Board of Trustees. Consistent with this role, it is appropriate for ACSRI to consider the March 28 statement of the group of Earth Institute faculty along with other worthy proposals. In order not to foreclose the deliberations of the Committee or the Trustees, I will express my own views at a later time. This is consistent with my prior engagement with ACSRI.

When your proposal was considered by ACSRI, the Committee declined to embrace it; but it also decided to continue its deliberations about divestment before making a recommendation to me and to the Trustees. It is vital to understand that the process continues, and that any proposals garnering strong support from within the University community will be carefully evaluated. To insist that CDCJ’s preference for blanket divestment must stand ahead of other alternatives is at odds with the core value Columbia places in robust debate and participation. The proposals we have seen in recent weeks from Earth Institute faculty and from ACSRI itself are signs that the process we have is a healthy one.

Finally, I want to reiterate this basic principle of the University—that we value the free and open exchange of viewpoints, including those we believe to be wrong, offensive, or even dangerous. To be sure, this principle is hard to live by. Often, especially when we are convinced we are right, it seems counterintuitive—which is why we must continually rededicate ourselves to standing up for members of the community who may want to express or hear views others among us might reject. We are all free to express our thoughts, our ideas, and our objections to the thoughts and ideas of others. We are not free to freeze that process in time.

As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas about one of the most important issues of our time.


Lee C. Bollinger