University President John J. DeGioia met with GU Fossil Free last Tuesday to discuss the fossil fuel divestment proposal and inform them that the Committee on Investments and Social Responsibility will vote on their proposal in January 2015.

The vote was originally scheduled to take place at the end of the academic year, but DeGioia met with CISR Chair and Associate Dean for Transnational Programs Jim Feinerman to encourage an earlier vote.

“CISR originally didn’t tell us a vote date when we met in October, but did indicate it would be in the distant future,” GU Fossil Free member Chloe Lazarus (COL ’16) wrote in an email. “We feel the change in the vote date has to do with the positive involvement of President DeGioia on our proposal and this environmental and moral issue.”

If CISR votes in favor of the proposal, it will be sent to the university’s board of directors for approval. GU Fossil Free members hope to see the vote on the board’s agenda in February of 2015.

CISR is made up of 12 members: four students, three professors and five university administrators. The group votes on written proposals from Georgetown community members and makes recommendations on socially responsible investment to the university board of directors.

According to GU Fossil Free and CISR member Caroline James (COL ’16), who attended the meeting, DeGioia expressed support for the initiative.

“From DeGioia, I get the sense that he is very interested, very aware of both the urgency of the issue and also of it as it pertains to a nationwide issue among universities,” James said. “I think that he thinks it is very much the right thing to do.”

Lazarus said that DeGioia seemed interested and engaged during the meeting.

“We are very thankful to President DeGioia for taking the time to meet with us. We all share the same goals of environmental justice and combating climate change not only through initiatives on campus, but also in the larger movement,” Lazarus wrote in an email. “We appreciate the positive feedback we received from President DeGioia about our proposal and campaign.”

However, James said that she expects CISR to vote against the proposal in January.

“What I predict will happen right now is that CISR will vote ‘no.’ I think out of cautiousness,” James said. “I think that it’s possible to say that [DeGioia] and CISR as a whole are very cautious of what divestment would do to the endowment and think that the better solution is inaction for now.”

The proposal calls for divestment from about 200 fossil fuel companies from the endowment, which make up approximately 8 to 10 percent of the fund. Since many of these companies are in mutual funds with Georgetown, the university would have to divest from entire funds, which would likely take out more than 8 to 10 percent of the total endowment investments.

“I think that [DeGioia] also is very much aware about his fiduciary responsibilities to the endowment,” James said.

DeGioia has averted several divestment attempts in the past. When DeGioia was the dean of student affairs in 1986, a group of students organized prolonged demonstrations on the White Gravenor patio calling for the university to divest from businesses operating in apartheid-era South Africa. As there was no free speech policy, DeGioia called in police to forcibly disperse the protesters, resulting in 35 arrests. CISR was established in the aftermath of the apartheid divestment protests.

According to a statement released by DeGioia’s Chief of Staff Joe Ferrara (GRD ’96) after the meeting Tuesday, DeGioia acknowledged GU Fossil Free’s efforts in getting CISR to vote on the proposal.

“It was a great meeting. President DeGioia commended GU Fossil Free on their hard work on this issue,” Ferrara wrote. “He indicated that he was aware that GU Fossil Free had had an opportunity to engage with [CISR] and that this process was ongoing.”

Ferrara also said that DeGioia anticipates further productive discussions with GU Fossil Free, which will occur after the vote from CISR in January.

“One topic of conversation was the best and most appropriate way to engage with the board of directors on the topic of fossil fuels,” Ferrara added. “We are considering those options and look forward to those discussions.”

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