Alumn hand back degrees to protest against limited divestment

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Sixty eight Oxford University alumni have symbolically returned their degree certificates in  in response to the University’s decision to continue to invest in fossil fuels.

On 23rd May, alumni queued up outside of the University offices in Wellington square dressed in gowns and mortars in order to “return” their certificates. Those who have pledged include Oxfordshire  Green Party Councillors  David Thomas, Sam Hollick and Ruthi Brandt, founder of “Solarcentury,” Jeremy Legget and journalist George Monbiot.

This move came in response to the University’s decision on the 22nd May to not place direct investment into tar sands or coal, but not to go as far as full divestment from all fossil fuels.

The alumni’s actions have been encouraged by the Oxford University Fossil Free Divestment Campaign which has organised an online campaign entitled: “Oxford Alumni – will you hand back your degree?”. Alumni involved in the campaign pledged to cease donating to the University, to sign a letter criticising the decision and photograph themselves ripping up their degree certificate.

Speaking to Blue&Green Tomorrow, the online environmental magazine, graduate Martin Evans said: “My degree was how I learned about climate change, how energy works, how solar panels and wind turbines work, and how I came to work in renewable energy. We’re asking the university to do the simple thing of following what it teaches, but it isn’t practising what it preaches. The university has to keep its promises on transparency as well as divest”.

In a press statement, Fossil Free Campaign coordinator at People & Planet, Miriam Wilson said: “Oxford alumni are handing back their degrees because they don’t want to be associated with a university which is funding climate change through its investments. Whilst we welcome the fact that the university has ruled out direct investments in coal and tar sands, we call on the university to go further, and fully divest from climate-wrecking fossil fuels.”

Vice Chancellor of Oxford University, Professor Andrew Hamilton sought to defend the university’s actions, stating: “We see the main purpose of our investment fund as generating the financial resources to support our academic purpose. However, our investment managers take a long-term view and take into account global risks, including climate change, when considering what investments to make.”

The Oxford University Fossil Free Divestment Campaign originated from a student movement in Trinity term 2013, as part of the OUSU Environment and Ethics Campaign. The movement has sought to apply a negative screening process for divestment, a positive screening process for investment for fossil free schemes and wants to implement a policy forcing the university to reveal future investments. The campaign has subsequently obtained widespread support not only from alumni, but from 26 JCR bodies, university groups such as WomCam and OUSU and leading academics including Dr Gavin Killip, Senior Researcher at the Environmental Change Institute and Lord Professor Robert May, former Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government and Head of the UK Office of Science and Technology.

PHOTO: Fossil Free UK