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The Shameful Position of Great University: Why Oxford Must Divest


The Shameful Position of Great University: Why Oxford Must Divest

David Evan Giles

I loved my time at Oxford. The privilege of having had three years beneath the dreaming spires left me with a sense of emotional connection that is hard to express. But that feeling has been tested to its limit by the attitude of the current management of Oxford. Let me explain.

In late 2013, I approached the Oxford Alumni Office, asking them who I should approach to encourage divestment from fossil fuels. Here is an extract from that email:


“The University of Oxford’s core mission is education and research. As I am sure you will appreciate, as a charity the University has a legal obligation to maximise the returns on its investments to support its charitable objects.”

A good lawyer could tear this quote apart in a heartbeat. For one thing, what kind of investments ensure the destruction of a planet? The notion of timing–short term profits versus long term sustainable investments ought to become the “contest point.” Sure, the old Oxford boys’ club is largely (no doubt) composed of old farts who don’t CARE about the long-term future. Perhaps that flaw in their moral argument can be further exploited and/or exposed.

Fortunately, college campaigns that force divestment are in early stages… and growing.



Perhaps Giles should propose that the University sell off its buildings and libraries. That would certainly maximise incoming cash over the very short term, but I wonder whether the administrators would make the connection.


I’m going to ask this again: What is the point of divestment?

If it is to send a message to the oil companies, they’re not going to hear it. In fact, they’ll never even know the divestment happened unless they read a press report. If Oxford does, in fact, sell its shares of oil and gas companies, it will do so on the open market at established market rates. That means that some other investor will purchase the shares from Oxford, with no involvement whatsoever by the oil company. After the oil company created the shares and sold them the first time, they’re completely out of the process of subsequent trades.

And as far as obligations go, the university does have at least a moral obligation to those alumni whose contributions helped create the endowment. The university is obligated to make the best use of those monies it can, including investing prudently for both growth and protection.

Refusing to purchase high yield investments to send a political message that will not be heard would be highly irresponsible.