Johns Hopkins provost hosts discussion forum on divesting from fossil fuel companies

JHU Forum on Divestment from Fossil Fuels includes panelists (clockwise from top left) Rafael Castilla, Ellen Dorsey, Frank Wolak, and David Powell

Image caption: JHU Forum on Divestment from Fossil Fuels includes panelists (clockwise from top left) Rafael Castilla, Ellen Dorsey, Frank Wolak, and David Powell

In response to mounting evidence of the environmental and public health impacts of the fossil fuel industry, Johns Hopkins University will hold a forum to discuss the issue of fossil fuel divestment.

The JHU Forum on Divestment from Fossil Fuels will take place Monday, April 17 in Hodson Hall. Experts will discuss the social, ethical, and financial implications institutions should consider when deciding whether or not to end investments with fossil fuel companies. A question and answer session will follow the panel. Nearly a third of the university's $3.8 billion endowment is privately invested.

"Divestment is a serious matter, because there are social as well as financial considerations we have to pay attention to," said JHU Provost Sunil Kumar, who will host the event. "We have to make sure we get the best possible financial strategy to support the whole mission of the university—which involves funding student scholarships as well as supporting our research mission. But we also have to live up to our commitments to be stewards of the environment, and to show our values in our decisions."

Last year, the student group Refuel Our Future brought a fossil fuel divestment proposal to the Public Interest Investment Advisory Committee, a committee of students, faculty, and staff appointed to make recommendations to the university regarding investments that may cause a substantial social impact. The forum will help educate committee members and the larger Hopkins community about this important topic.

"The PIIAC is committed to its role of advising the Board of Trustees in response to proposals regarding socially responsible investing by the university," says Jeffrey Kahn, director of the Berman Institute of Bioethics who chairs the PIIAC. "While the committee continues to consider the proposal to divest from fossil fuel companies, it's important to hear from experts as well as the Johns Hopkins community at large. This forum is a unique opportunity to bring these stakeholders together."

The four-speaker panel of experts on investment strategies and practices includes:

  • Rafael Castilla, director of investments and structuring at the University of Michigan Investment Office
  • Ellen Dorsey, executive director of the Wallace Global Fund, a private foundation focused on progressive social change in the fields of environment, democracy, human rights, and corporate accountability
  • David Powell, the co-portfolio manager of the Large-Cap Sustainable Growth Strategy for Brown Advisory
  • Frank Wolak, Stanford University's Holbrook Working Professor of Commodity Price Studies in the economics department and director of the program on energy and sustainable development

Bloomberg Distinguished Professor Paul Ferraro, an expert in environmental economics whose research examines the design and effectiveness of environmental programs in the private and public sector, will moderate the discussion

Adds Kumar: "The university's financial and social considerations are not at odds with each other, but they interact in complex ways. This is not a matter that can be decided as simply 'for' or 'against'—it's much more subtle than that. The forum also affords an opportunity to discuss whether divestment is an effective way for institutions to take action against climate change."

The JHU Forum on Divestment from Fossil Fuels will take place in Hodson 110 from 6-8:15 p.m. Light refreshments will be served prior to the event. This event will be streamed live (JHED login required).

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