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On Wednesday, the Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing (ACSRI) [publicly] released a statement announcing its recommendation that the Board of Trustees divest Boston University’s endowment from direct investments in coal and tar sands or all companies continuing exploration for additional fossil fuel reserves. Additionally, the ACSRI is proposing investment in renewable energy and green technology, as well as implementation of a comprehensive Climate Action Plan that would expand sustainability initiatives “across education, research, and operations.”
BU Students for Fossil Fuel Divestment emphatically endorse the ACSRI’s call for divestment and further action on climate, and we urge the Board to vote in favor of the committee’s recommendation.
Last year, the Board decided it would not adopt the ACSRI’s proposal for divestment from civilian firearm manufacturers. We understand the weight of the decision to divest and the bar the Board has set for such a decision. However, we also emphasize that as there are no students on the Board of Trustees, the ACSRI represents the extent to which student voices can be heard on matters pertaining to our endowment. Consequently, any lack of transparency on the level of the Board raises concerns about whether students actually have a say in this decision-making process, as well as the legitimacy of the ACSRI. We thus feel that the trustees must reveal conflicts of interest when deliberating on whether Boston University will divest from fossil fuels.
Every time a scientist, including those at here at BU, submits a research grant, they are required to sign a conflict of interest disclosure form In the judicial system, lawyers and judges must reveal any financial or personal interests in the outcome of a legal case, and when these interests are deemed significant, they must recuse themselves. In the financial industry, conflicts of interest are taken especially seriously — the Securities and Exchange Commission aggressively pursues investment advisors that fail to reveal conflicts of interest [e.g. x].
Scientists, lawyers, asset managers and other professionals understand that reporting conflicts of interest represents an essential mechanism through which biases are minimized and decision-making processes are made more transparent. Conflict of interest rules are thus in place to protect rigorous and unbiased decision-making, to allow for transparency and validation of decisions and, ultimately, to protect the reputations of the decision makers.
The trustees’ response to this request for transparency will be a decision that has major implications for the legacy, integrity and reputation of Boston University. It is imperative that the decision-making process be transparent and conducted according to the highest of ethical standards. Thus, we call on each trustee to reveal — on the record — whether they have any personal, financial or other interests in the fossil fuel industry. Any trustee for whom significant conflicts of interest exist should in good conscience reveal this conflict and recuse themselves from the Board’s deliberations on fossil fuel divestment. In doing so, the trustees will engender confidence in BU students and the larger community that the decision-making process has been unbiased.
Students for Fossil Fuel Divestment, firstname.lastname@example.org