An open letter to Robert Campbell

In recent years, students, faculty, and alumni from post-secondary institutions across North America and around the world have called upon their administrators to pull their endowment funds from the fossil fuel industry.

The logic behind the divestment movement is simple. If it is wrong to wreck the planet, then it is wrong to profit from that wreckage.

Let’s be clear: the climate crisis is no longer an issue reserved for future generations. Since the beginning of your contract at Mount Allison University, typhoon Haiyan—the largest storm in recorded history— ravaged the coast of the Philippines, Hurricane Sandy barreled into New York City leaving 75 billion dollars worth of damages in its wake, and a drought in the Sahel left 10 million people in a state of food insecurity. In Canada alone, a heat wave in 2010 baked Southern Ontario and Québec, heavy rainfall in 2013 devastated the city of Calgary, and heavy flooding inundated Toronto’s subway system just earlier this year.

These are our homes. As a university that draws students from across Canada and around the world, we have collectively become all too familiar with climate change’s indiscriminate reach. In 2013, students from High River, Alberta were left wondering whether they’d have a home to return to and just this past summer, Hurricane Arthur left Mount Allison students from across Atlantic Canada without power for days. Research from our own institution indicates that future flooding in the Town of Sackville will leave huge swaths of land underwater, compromising the houses of citizens who share our love for this town.

Climate change is the issue of our generation and no university degree, no matter how prestigious, will insulate us from its effects.

Dr. Campbell, it should be of no surprise that the fossil fuel divestment movement has reached the small town of Sackville, New Brunswick. For 175 years, Mount Allison University has taken pride in shaping young people into national and international leaders in their respective fields.

For years, our professors have taught us to think critically. They have taught us to recognize our privilege and above all, they have taught us that we, as fortunate, educated, and empowered citizens, have the power to change the world.

It is often difficult to believe them. Universities can transform students into cynics and Mount Allison is no exception. But fossil fuel divestment is a concrete action. It is a tangible change and it is something that we can and will achieve.

Mount Allison University students have a great deal to be proud of. Every day, we are surrounded by peers who inspire us and professors who expand our knowledge to a point we never thought possible. In many ways, this alone should compel us to be proud of our title as “The #1 Undergraduate University in Canada.” But in reality, until we begin to dismantle our ivory tower, we don’t deserve this title. As an elite institution, we have a fundamental responsibility to use our privilege for the better.

Climate change is – first and foremost – an environmental justice issue. At the international level, it is already wreaking havoc on the Global South. While in North America, indigenous groups, low-income communities, and disempowered individuals are being hit hardest by its impacts. As educated citizens, we have an obligation to act.

Many will argue that university endowments should be reserved to advance the institution’s academic mission. Last year, Drew Gilpin Faust, Harvard’s president, said, “The endowment is a resource, not an instrument to impel social or political change.” But her words ring hollow. Universities, including Mount Allison, have, for years, cultivated strong relationships with businesses, donors, and governments to fulfill commercial and political purposes. University presidents, such as yourself, understand that our mission statement does not exist in social isolation. In fact, the urgency of climate change has compelled hundreds of institutions, from Unity College in Maine to Stanford University in California, to embrace divestment.

Many of the world’s leading political figures support the cause. The President of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim; UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon; and the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney have all urged major institutions to consider how their investments can transition the world toward a renewable energy economy.

Dr. Campbell, you’ll be proud to know that Mount Allison University is preparing us to take on the challenge of climate change. Science students are being taught to understand its complex dynamics and effects. International relations students are being equipped with the skills they need to negotiate international environmental agreements. Business students are being prepared to build a green economy rooted in the understanding of an ecological bottom line. Fine arts students are being given the tools they need to create art that mobilizes communities under a common cause. Finally, our English students are being prepared to write the success story when the time comes to celebrate what we have achieved.

But without action, climate change will undermine the very education Mount Allison has provided us with.

Dr. Campbell, you have the opportunity to place this institution on the right side of history. Divest now and know that in doing so, you are affirming your belief in our futures.

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