A coal processing plant in West Virginia. (Reuters/Jim Young)
This opinion column was originally published in the Brown Daily Herald.
In one week, Brown University’s Corporation will meet, discussing and likely voting on whether the University should continue to profit from any of the 15 largest coal companies it’s currently invested in. This decision is critical: for those suffering in communities impacted by mountaintop removal, for the millions who will be hit by hurricanes and natural disasters worse than Katrina and Sandy and for the global community that will have to respond to the damages that will be wrought because we have changed the temperature and composition of our atmosphere.
This decision will also have implications for our community’s trust in Brown to reflect our values. Will the statements from our faculty members, researchers, University committees, student groups and petition signatories be heard? Will we take this opportunity to act seriously, or will we be another Harvard, too committed to the status quo to take action against the worst environmental disaster humanity has ever faced? Are we “Boldly Brown”—or something else?
With such an important vote, the integrity of the Corporation’s decision-making process must be respected. As the Brown University Conflict of Interest and Commitment Policy reads, “All decisions and actions taken by members of the Brown community in the conduct of University business shall be made in a manner that promotes the best interests of Brown University. Members of the Brown community have an obligation to address both the substance and the appearance of conflicts of interest and commitment and, if they arise, to disclose them to the appropriate University representative and withdraw from debate, voting or other decision-making process where a conflict of interest exists or might arise.”
According to this policy, several members of the Corporation who have clear connections to some of the 15 coal companies considered for divestment should recuse themselves from any “debate, voting or other decision-making process” concerning divestment from coal. These members are:
Brian Moynihan ’81 P’14: Moynihan is on the University’s Board of Trustees and is president and CEO of Bank of America, which as of Aug. 14 has $1 billion worth of holdings in 14 of the 15 companies in question.