On February 13, 2020 (Fossil Fuel Divestment Day), Divest Princeton submitted a proposal to the Council of the Princeton University Community (CPUC) Resources Committee requesting that the University divest its $26 billion endowment from all fossil fuel companies and related interests. Here is more information about the entities involved and the process of actually getting a divestment proposal approved.
BOARD of TRUSTEES
Princeton University is governed by a Board of Trustees. This list compiled by Divest Princeton includes all the trustees as well as their category and how they arrived on the board. The Trustees make all major decisions at Princeton including whether or not the university should divest from fossil fuels. There are 37 trustees plus the President of the University and the Governor of New Jersey who are Ex officio (the people occupying those 2 roles are automatically trustees). For more information about individual trustees, visit our Board of Trustees page.
Many trustees serve a term, leave for a year and then are (re)appointed. Trustees begin their terms in July of the year they are appointed. Charter and term trustees are appointed by the trustees themselves. Alumni trustees are elected by alumni in a tightly controlled process. 4 trustees are Young Alumni Trustees - one is elected each year by the current juniors, seniors and 2 most recently graduated classes.
COMMITTEE on FINANCE
The board has a number of standing committees including a Committee on Finance which is chaired by trustee C. James Yeh ’87 who is President and Co-Chief Investment Officer of the Citadel Investment Group LLC. We do not know who else is on this committee.
The Princeton University Investment Company is commonly known as PRINCO. Its stated mission is "optimizing the investment of Princeton’s Endowment" and assuring "the perpetual financial health and independence of the University". Andy Golden is the President of PRINCO. Some of those on PRINCO's board are also on the university's board of trustees. As Chair of the Committee on Finance, C. James Yeh is also on the board of PRINCO. The endowment stood at $26.6 billion as of June 30, 2020. Princeton’s endowment ranks among the five largest university and college endowments in the United States. Measured per-student, it is the largest in the world. Endowment proceeds provide approximately half of the revenues for Princeton’s operating budget. PRINCO does not release any information about its holdings.
COUNCIL OF THE PRINCETON UNIVERSITY RESOURCES COMMITTEE
Following demands that the university divest from companies doing business in apartheid South Africa, the Resources Committee was created in 1970 to “consider questions of general policy concerning the procurement and management of the University’s financial resources.” The Resources Committee is made up of representatives of the faculty, undergraduate student body, graduate student body and staff. Resources Committee Annual Report 2019-2020
OFFICE of SUSTAINABILITY
Princeton’s Office of Sustainability was founded in 2006 by students and alumni in partnership with Facilities and what is now the Princeton Sustainability Committee. In 2019, the Office released the Sustainability Action Plan: Toward 2026 and Beyond.
Before the Resources Committee takes up an issue for consideration, the guidelines drafted by the board of trustees in1997 ask it to determine if the issue meets 3 criteria:
if the issue has attracted “considerable, thoughtful, and sustained interest on campus;”
if the issue presents a “direct and serious contradiction with a central University value;”
if the University community can achieve “consensus on how the University should respond” to the issue.
Once a proposal is submitted to the Resources Committee, it is hard to know when there will be a decision: "There is no specific timeline for reviewing and evaluating issues brought to the Committee, however the Committee does meet regularly throughout the academic year. The Committee reports annually, if not sooner, on the outcome of any deliberation, however given the guidelines requirement of sustained interest, most proposals will take more than one academic year to reach a conclusion."
If the Resources Committee supports a proposal, the next step is to pass that recommendation up to the Board of Trustees. It is unclear whether the Committee on Finance is asked to comment on any recommendation from the Resources Committee before or after it is reviewed by the trustees. The final decision rests with the Board of Trustees.
AND DIVESTMENT PROPOSALS?
In 2015, the Resources Committee declined to recommend that Princeton divest from fossil fuels. Correspondence between President Eisgruber and the president of PRINCO was used to explain their refusal.
As we approach the one year anniversary of our submission to the Resources Committee in February 2020, Divest Princeton believes that the situation is now quite different and that we have fulfilled all the criteria. There have been three key developments since the 2015 proposal was rejected:
The 2015 adoption of decision making criteria for all campus, infrastructure, and operations planning, developed by the faculty-led CO2 Task Force convened by President Eisgruber
The 2018 publication of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report calling for “rapid and far-reaching transitions” in all economic sectors to limit warming at 1.5ºC and reduce net global anthropogenic CO2 emissions by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030
The 2019 publication of Princeton’s Sustainability Action Plan (SAP), which commits the University to carbon neutrality by 2046
The slides below highlight how fossil fuel divestment meets each criterion. Swipe through the 5 slides below and the final summary to see the flowchart of the process.
Learn more about Princeton's undemocratic divestment process with our three-part series: "Money and Power at Princeton: What we see and what we don't."
Lynne Archibald, Naomi Cohen-Shields, Joseph Giguere, Alex Nguyen, and Tom Taylor (2/9/2021). Donors Fund Climate Denial: How Princeton’s Money Trail Undermines Its Own Research. Daily Princetonian.
Lynne Archibald, Naomi Cohen-Shields, Joseph Giguere, Alex Nguyen, and Tom Taylor (2/8/2021). What do you get for a donation to Princeton?. Daily Princetonian.
Sofia Hiltner and Lynne Archibald (2/7/2021). Where is our Princeton Forward?. Daily Princetonian.
Graphic design by Ashley Chung
What about other campus campaigns?
There is a new website created by Change Princeton Now, a coalition of undergraduate students, graduate students, and alumni organizing to combat racism and other intersecting forms of harm on Princeton University’s campus. Starting from organizing work done in the the wake of the movement for Black lives in the summer of 2020, this website compiles letters written to the Princeton administration that demand structural change to combat anti-Black racism within the university.