Nearly 800 University of Oxford alumni have signed an open letter to the President and Principal Bursar of the College, threatening to withhold donations until the college commits to divesting in fossil fuel companies.
This follows a five-day occupation of the College’s quad by protesting students, which ended on Sunday 2nd February.
The letter, which currently has 766 signatories, states support for the student protesters, writing that they are “immensely proud of these younger generations of Oxford students for having the clarity to connect themselves to a global, strategic movement for change rather than addressing the climate crisis solely as individuals.”
The letter criticises the leadership of St. John’s College over their handling of the protest, describing it as a “troubling response to this peaceful occupation and continued refusal to align your endowment with climate justice.”
In particular, it highlights the response of Professor Andrew Parker, the Principal Bursar at St. John’s College, criticising his comments to The Times that he wished that before ‘emitting slogans… everyone stops and thinks.’
The letter from alumni also mentions Professor Parker’s email where he told protesting students that he could ‘arrange for the gas central heating in College to be switched off with immediate effect.’ They describe this as a ‘narrow vision’ and criticise Professor Parker’s insinuation that the students demanding divestment were not ‘prepared to make personal sacrifices to achieve the goals of environmental improvement.’
The letter expressed dismay that College leadership “marginalised and dismissed [student protesters], disabling their room keys and blocking blankets, sleeping bags, and food.” A statement released by St. John’s College on the 3rdof February has acknowledged that they disabled security fobs after claims that non-St John’s students used them to access the College but denies disabling room keys. The statement also “strongly refutes the claim made by a small number of protesters that during the protest it blocked access to blankets, sleeping bags and food.”
A spokesperson for St John’s College said that the college is “deeply concerned about climate change” and “conscious of many calls for divestment. In response to this, we set up a working group in 2019 which is conducting a wide-ranging review of current policies, sustainable finance and ‘intentional’ investing — how trustees might reflect their charity’s aims and values in their investment policies.
“This work will, of course, continue and we expect to bring recommendations to the governing body by the end of the academic year.
“It is absolutely crucial in our view, that divestment does not become a divisive debate.”
They also claimed that views expressed to them regarding the protests have been, “mixed and on both sides of the debate.”
Julia Peck, who launched the open letter, said: “I think this occupation will be a watershed moment. It comes at a really crucial time when student campaigners are actively taking divestment proposals to the highest decision-making bodies of the university.
“This is a moment where Oxford leadership have clearly seen the amount of public support among the students, the faculty and the alumni. This kind of thing has never happened at an Oxford college.
“Now the heat has really turned up on the colleges who have their own endowments. They can make just as strong a statement about aligning themselves as climate justice as can the university.”
The letter references recent divestment by Balliol College, who committed to divesting from fossil fuels last week, as well as earlier pledges to withhold donations from the University of Oxford by over 1,000 alumni and donors.
It ends with the hope that St. John’s College “see these brave students as thinking, dreaming, and struggling with all of us in mind. We stand with them and will continue to support them as they seek systemic change.”
Image Credit: Direct Action for Divestment Oxford Twitter