Sustainability Environment

Students say Yale, Stanford, MIT and Vanderbilt’s fossil fuel investments are illegal in new campaign

This Sept. 9, 2016 photo shows Harkness Tower on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, Conn. AP Photo/Beth J. Harpaz

Story at a glance

  • Students at five top tier colleges filed legal complaints with their states’ attorneys general claiming their colleges were violating a little know law that requires universities to invest in a manner consistent with “charitable purposes.”
  • The students are also claiming the colleges are failing to meet their financial responsibilities by investing in industries like oil and gas.
  • All five universities have combined endowments worth more than $155 billion.

Students at five top universities have filed legal complaints against their colleges for investing in fossil fuel companies that contributed to climate change. 

On Wednesday, students from Princeton, Stanford, Vanderbilt, Yale and MIT filed the complaints with their state’s respective attorneys general requesting they investigate thecontinued investment in the fossil fuel sector by school trustees,” according to a press release.  

“In the face of the overwhelming nature of the climate crisis, we look for levers of power and change to which we have access,” Anna Liebowitz, who graduated from Princeton University in 2009, said in a statement.  

“Our universities are amongst the world’s wealthiest and most prestigious institutions of higher education, and their investments in the fossil fuel industry — an industry whose actions place the health and future of students and the entire planet at risk — amount to nothing less than complicity in the climate crisis. Thus, our campaigns are coming together and collectively calling for an end to fossil fuel investments in higher education and the world at large,” Liebowitz added. 

All five of the universities have combined endowments worth more than $155 billion a small portion of which is invested in fossil fuels, according to Reuters.  


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The students allege the universities’ continued investment in fossil fuels violates the Uniform Prudent Management of Institutional Funds Act, which says that colleges must invest in consideration of their “charitable purposes.”  

In response, Stanford spokesperson Dee Mostofi said the university is “confident that (its) investments fully comply with all applicable laws regulating charities in California,” according to Reuters. 

Given the destruction of the climate caused by fossil fuels, investment in fossil fuel industries conflicts with the college’s “educational purposes and individual missions,” according to the statement.  

In addition, the complaints argue that investments in the oil and gas industry are financially irresponsible of the college’s given their uncertain futures.  


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