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Stanford professors call on endowment to divest fossil-fuel holdings

Stanford University campus

More than 300 tenured professors at Stanford University are calling on the school to divest all fossil-fuel investments in its $21.4 billion endowment.

The 309 faculty members, who include Paul Ehrlich, a population analyst, and Nobel laureates Roger Kornberg and Douglas Osheroff, said in a letter dated Jan. 11 to University President John Hennessy and the Stanford board of trustees that the university needs to move beyond its May 2014 decision to divest from coal company investments.

In ending investment in coal companies, Stanford became the most prominent institutional investor to partially sever ties to companies that are associated with global warming. But the university at that time rejected calls to divest all fossil-fuel investments.

The fossil-fuel divestment movement has so far been largely driven by student activists. While a few smaller universities have approved divesting from fossil-fuel holdings, major institutions such as Harvard University and Brown University have rejected divestment efforts.

“The urgency and magnitude of climate change call not for partial solutions, however admirable; they demand the more profound and thorough commitment embodied in divestment from all fossil-fuel companies,” the Stanford professors' letter states.

Elizabeth Tallent, an English professor at Stanford and one of the organizers of the letter, said in an interview that the university's climate change divestment policy is “incoherent.” To divest from coal and not follow that with oil and gas, is a contradiction, she said.

Stanford spokeswoman Lisa Lapin said the university has not yet received the letter so could not directly comment on it.

She said the university has an advisory panel on responsible investment — which is made up of faculty members, students and staff — that makes recommendations to the board of trustees and its special committee on responsible investment.