more than a year and a half, students at Reed College have been calling on the
school’s trustees to get Reed’s investments out of companies that deal in oil
and coal. They were promised an answer by the end of the school year.
Nearly a month beyond that deadline, they’re still waiting.
College students across the country are calling for their schools to divest from coal and oil. The group DivestReed has been leading efforts towards divestment on the campus, and has met with the college’s board of trustees twice.
“[The trustees] are taking it very seriously, not just paying it lip service,” says Reed spokesman Kevin Myers. “They are deliberating many different angles and possibilities.”
The demand at Reed for divestment from companies trading in fossil fuels follows a broader debate aimed at drawing attention to climate change. Stanford University last month said it would divest its endowment from coal-mining companies.
DivestReed member Maya Jarrad says Reed is “profiting from destruction of the planet that will provide for future and current generations” through its investments in coal and oil.
Reed’s endowment recently reached $500 million, a small number compared to that of other colleges. Stanford’s endowment is worth $18.7 billion.
Reed is one of several colleges in the Pacific Northwest experiencing a student divestment campaign. DivestReed is involved with 350PDX, a regional chapter of the environmental activist group, which has helped them connect with other students. They’ve recently met with students from Portland State University, who are starting their own divestment campaign.
“There’s not a huge population who are super passionate about divestment,” Austin Weisgrau of DivestReed says. “People at Reed tend to be really cautious. Either they are apathetic or cautious.”
“People are concerned about the finances of the college,” Weisgrau adds. “If they don’t know if it’s feasible, they don’t want to prioritize divestment over Reed’s ability to exist.”
Support among faculty and the administration is just as tenuous. Jarrad says some college officials have wondered if Reed divests over fossil fuels, where it would draw the line of doing so over other issues.
“There is resistance to make financial decisions based on moral issues,” Jarrad says.
The group organized two parades on campus this year, teaming up with other clubs on campus, such as the Feminist Student Union and the Blue Heron Infoshop. The college hosted a campus-wide discussion on divestment in the spring.
But nothing got the attention of Reed’s administrators like Igor Vamos, a 1990 alumnus and the 2014 commencement speaker at Reed’s graduation ceremonies May 19.
In his speech, Vamos announced that Reed had decided to divest from oil and coal companies. The announcement won a standing ovation.
But it was a prank—not surprising, given that Vamos is a member of “The Yes Men,” a performance group which stages political satire. Still, the announcement was picked up by local media.
“Vamos is a great guerrilla artist and we were proud to have him return to Reed,” said Reed President John Kroger in a press release. “We appreciate the robust and far-ranging debate that this prank will continue to spur.”
If the standing ovation Reed students gave Vamos is any indication, then it’s obvious which outcome many are hoping for when the college’s trustees finally announce their decision.