On June 16, several members of VSG, Dores Divest and DivestVU met with Anders Hall, vice chancellor for investments and chief investment officer, and Eric Kopstain, vice chancellor for administration, to discuss the movement for Vanderbilt to divest from fossil fuels. Those who attended the meeting described the encounter to be positive and a step toward more sustainable university efforts.
Miguel Moravec, Graduate Student Council member and affiliate of Dores Divest, stated in a message to The Hustler that the meeting was off-record, meaning that details of the conversation are not able to be shared to the public. However, Sophomore Ben Hayden, an organizer for Dores Divest, commented on the nature of the meeting to The Hustler. He expressed gratitude that administrators had agreed to meet with students after a year of advocacy.
“This meeting was the first formal interaction between students affiliated with Dores Divest and Vanderbilt’s administration,” Hayden said. “During the meeting, students had the opportunity to address both Mr. Hall and Vice Chancellor Kopstain with questions about Vanderbilt’s endowment and the likelihood of fossil fuel divestment.”
Though Hayden is hopeful that the university will listen to students who wish for Vanderbilt to divest, he acknowledged that the decision is ultimately up to Chancellor Daniel Diermeier and the Board of Trust.
“By the end of the meeting it was clear that while the members of the administration we met with may sympathize with our divestment efforts and our reasoning, it is ultimately up to the chancellor and the Board of Trust to make divestment decisions, for they are accountable for the endowment,” Hayden said.
Dores Divest also highlighted members of the administration present at the meeting via Instagram. The post stated that Diermeier “skipped” the meeting and hinted at future advocacy initiatives to come in Fall 2021.
“The meeting was positive and discussed investment office procedure,” the post read. “The one thing stopping divestment? @vu_chancellor.”
In a message to The Hustler, Student Body President Hannah Bruns stated that she believes Vanderbilt can still profit via the university’s endowment even if they divest from fossil fuels. Bruns co-founded DivestVU and currently serves on its executive board.
“Vice Chancellor Hall made it clear to us that the endowment’s top priority is maximizing profit, and it is not to be used as an advocacy tool. However, DivestVU and Dores Divest have been making the argument for months that we believe investing in clean energy is profitable,” Bruns said. “I hope that the parties responsible for making final investment decisions hear our concerns and realize this is a time sensitive issue—the climate emergency is not around the corner, it is here, and Vanderbilt has an opportunity to play a hand in reversing its course.”
DivestVU and Dores Divest have held numerous live protests, created a petition and spurred online advocacy initiatives during the 2020-21 school year that encouraged Vanderbilt to divest from fossil fuels. VSG also passed two bills on Oct. 28, 2020, supporting fossil fuel divestment, similar to a resolution passed by the Graduate Student Union on Nov. 13, 2020. Diermeier and C. Cybele Raver, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, both expressed the importance of maintaining an endowment to be able to offer financial aid and other student services.
“On the specific issue of divestment, the purpose of the endowment is not to be an advocacy tool—the purpose of the endowment is to support our students and our faculty,” Diermeier said in an April 23, 2021, interview with The Hustler. “We’re going to adopt a stance of principled neutrality on that, so students and faculty can debate the whole issue on whether providing capital to oil and gas companies is a good idea, or whether it would be better to own shares in oil and gas companies and then use shareholder activism for them to change that behavior.”