Students Disrupt David Swensen Talk and Occupy Investments Office

(contributed photo)

NEW HAVEN, CT – Student demonstrators interrupted a public talk given by Yale Chief Investments Officer David Swensen and NPR correspondent Chris Arnold on Tuesday, calling on Swensen to meet the demands of students who were occupying the Yale Investments Office for the third time in the past five months. For more information visit https://www.facebook.com/FossilFreeYale.

Half an hour into the financial advice presentation described as “teaching students to invest like Yale does”,” more than 40 members of the Yale Endowment Justice coalition stood up, holding banners reading “Yale is Complicit” and “Inaction is not an option.”Lorna Chitty YC’20, a member of the Yale Democratic Socialists, interrupted Swensen to inform him that earlier that afternoon, 20 students and community members had begun a third sit-in in the Investments Office. She asked when Swensen would respond to the years of student activism calling for fossil fuel divestment and cancelling Puerto Rico’s debt.

As Swensen sat without replying, Arnold urged the protestors to bring their complaints at another time.. Chitty responded: “We have gone through all of your administrative channels, we have written countless reports, we have delivered our demands to your door, and you remain invested in the climate crisis that threatens all our futures and is already impacting the people of Puerto Rico.” The student organizers marched out of the lecture hall, chanting “Cancel the Debt,” leaving only about half of the original attendees. .

This isn’t the first confrontation between Swensen and student organizers. In March 2018, Yale’s legendary investments manager faced backlash following an email exchange with the Yale Daily News, in which Swensen called the editor-in-chief a “coward” and wrote, “Don’t you understand simple English?”

Students point to Yale’s holdings in the Puerto Rican debt crisis as an example of investments that aren’t consistent with Yale’s stated commitment to climate change. “As Puerto Rico struggles to recover from a climate change-fueled hurricane and a massive debt crisis, Yale’s fifth largest fund manager Baupost is suing the island to be repaid first. Our demands for bold moral action from Yale have been met with silence. That’s why we’re continuing to take direct action to hold our university accountable to principles of climate justice” said Adriana Colón-Adorno YC’20, a member of Despierta Boricua, the Yale Puerto Rican students association. Yale’s CIO David Swensen sits on the board of Baupost.

Fossil Free Yale has been working with the Yale administration for six years to divest the university’s $29 billion endowment from fossil fuels, but students’ frustration with administrative stalling and inaction has led them to take more drastic actions like disrupting an event. “Nonviolent direct action is a necessary and just response to a rigged and fraudulent democratic system of representation,” says Ross Pennock, DIV ’21, a member of the Endowment Justice Coalition.

While the students were walking out of the lecture hall, the Yale Police Department was issuing citations to 20 more students and community members for refusing to leave the Investments Office until Yale agreed to meet their demands. This sit-in follows a December action at which 48 students were arrested, the largest university fossil fuel divestment direct action in history, as well as a March sit-in at which 17 students were arrested. The activists promised they would continue to hold Yale accountable to principles of climate justice.

Students Occupy Yale Investments Office, Demanding Action on Climate Injustice in Puerto Rico

[Below are excerpts from the press release PAR received on March 4 regarding the action at Yale]

Yale University police arrested and issued citations to 17 Yale students who held an occupation of the Investments Office [March 4] demanding that Yale direct its fund managers to cancel their holdings in Puerto Rico’s debt and divest the endowment from fossil fuel companies. A total of 30 students and New Haven community members participated in the sit-in lasting the entire afternoon. They have emphasized that they will continue returning to the Investments Office until the University takes action on their demands.

In the face of hurricanes, devastating California wildfires and the latest UN climate report, bold and comprehensive action is needed to address climate change. Climate change exacerbates existing economic inequity, as seen in Puerto Rico, where several “vulture funds” that hold Puerto Rico’s considerable debt are demanding to be repaid before the island can rebuild and support its poorest residents. Research has shown that the intensity of hurricanes like Maria, which struck the island in September last year, is being exacerbated by climate change.

“As Puerto Rico struggles to recover from a climate change-fueled hurricane and a massive debt crisis, Yale’s fifth largest fund manager Baupost is suing the island to be repaid first. Our demands for bold moral action from Yale have been met with silence. That’s why we’re continuing to take direct action to hold our university accountable to principles of climate justice,” said Adriana Colón, a member of Des-pierta Boricua, the Yale Puerto Rican students association. Yale’s CIO David Swensen sits on the board of Baupost.

For six years, student and community organizers have worked with the Yale administration to advocate for the divestment of Yale’s $29.4 billion endowment from fossil fuel corporations. Yale would join 998 institutions that have committed to divesting $7.2 trillion from the fossil fuel industry worldwide. Most recently, Middlebury College announced it will divest its $1 billion endowment from fossil fuel companies. For more information, please contact Martin Man at martinmi5@hotmail.com or call (845) 505-9281.

Yale Arrests 48 Students Demanding Climate Justice for Puerto Rico

by Nora Heaphy, Fossil Free Yale

On the last day of Yale’s 2018 Fall semester [Dec. 7], 48 students, professors, and New Haven community members were arrested after a 5-hour occupation of the Yale Investments Office.

We were sitting in to demand that Yale direct its fund managers to cancel their holdings in Puerto Rico’s debt and divest from the fossil fuel industry. After 6 years of trying to engage with the Yale administration, the few channels available had failed us, and our only alternative was direct action.

As Puerto Rico struggles to recover from a climate change-fueled hurricane and a massive debt crisis, Yale’s fifth largest fund manager Baupost is suing to have its debt repaid before the island can rebuild, and renowned Yale Chief Investment Officer David Swensen sits on the board of Baupost. Our university’s investments in injustice don’t surprise us. We also know that Yale invests at least $678 million in fossil fuel companies, including ExxonMobil and Antero. These corporations intend to extract and burn as much coal, oil, and natural gas as possible, regardless of the consequences to islands like Puerto Rico. And they’ve spent billions funding climate denial and paying off politicians to lobby against climate policies like a Green New Deal.

In the Investments Office lobby, members of our coalition presented on Puerto Rico’s debt and the roots of Yale’s endowment in slavery, held trainings, sang songs, and read statements of support from around the world. Meanwhile, 450 students marched to the Investments Office and rallied in support, as those inside were arrested. The Yale administration—who had recently published a statement blaming climate change on everyday consumers rather than fossil fuel corporations—chose to arrest its students rather than have a conversation with us. A few days later, at the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility’s public meeting, we again confronted the administration’s failure to act in the face of climate injustice. Our calls for moral leadership from Yale have been met with stalling, inaction, and a willful naiveté that amounts to gross negligence. But students, New Haven, and Puerto Rico are powerful, and we will hold this university accountable.

Email fossilfreeyale@gmail.com to get involved.