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As Ireland recently became the first country in the world to commit to fossil fuel divestment, research at the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, in conjunction with the Union of Concerned Scientists, explores the role of faculty in campus divestment activism.
Within higher education the divestment movement has been perceived as largely driven by students and alumni, but this recently published research highlights the important role of faculty. The role of college and university faculty in the fossil fuel divestment movement, published in May in Elementa Science of the Anthropocene, reviews publicly available faculty letters that endorse fossil fuel divestment.
The researchers—Jennie C. Stephens, director of Northeastern University’s School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, Peter C. Frumhoff, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, and Leehi Yona, a student at Yale University—analyzed 30 letters to administrators signed by faculty at campuses throughout the United States and Canada.
The letters revealed support for divestment from 4,550 faculty across major fields of inquiry and scholarship, and all types of faculty positions. Of these signers, more than 225 have specific expertise in climate change or energy.
An in-depth analysis of 18 of these letters shows that a significantly greater proportion of tenured faculty signed open letters of support for divestment than did not-yet-tenured faculty.
According to the researchers, revealing the scope and scale of faculty support for fossil fuel divestment may encourage additional faculty to engage, support and endorse this growing social movement.