Universities Say Educational Mission Compels Them to Invest in Fossil Fuels

If learning institutions have become money machines, where does that leave their educational mission?

Since 1990, the real dollar amount of the average university endowment has increased four-fold, raising scrutiny over the kinds of investments universities make. If institutions of higher learning have become money machines, where does that leave their educational mission, which presumably has something to do with being a morally-responsible agent?


One popular response to the burgeoning university endowment has been a call for schools to divest from companies that market fossil fuels. The argument in favor of such a move is that universities are moral agents in society, and their finances are a tool with which they make their priorities known. Such was the case during South African apartheid when 150 American colleges divested from business engagements with the country. 

Many college presidents, however, have publicly given (many) reasons why their endowments will continue investing in oil, gas, and coal companies. Among them are that universities have a higher mission, and that mission is better accomplished when the coffers are full. Harvard's president Drew Gilpin Faust argues that universities can more effectively influence corporate behavior by having skin in the game. She has also pointed out the hypocrisy of divesting in companies whose products are relied upon by universities each day. 

In his Big Think interview, former MIT president Charles Vest argues that universities must have philanthropic missions, meaning they must continually try to improve society:

Read more at the New York Times

Photo credit: Shutterstock

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