Divest UMass to meet with President Caret next month

By Aviva Luttrell

Julia Cardillo/Daily Collegian
Julia Cardillo/Daily Collegian

After nearly a year of requesting a meeting with University of Massachusetts President Robert Caret, three members of the Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign will finally get the opportunity to speak with him face-to-face on May 13 in Boston.

Although Divest has been upping its tactics since the fall by sending several letters and calling the president’s office on a regular basis to reiterate its request for a meeting with Caret, it wasn’t until two weeks ago that the campaign’s efforts resulted in any significant outcome.

UMass graduate student and Divest member Stephen Treat was invited by Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy to attend the Intentionally Designed Endowment Conference, hosted by Hampshire College, as a student representative. There, he met Judith Murphy, associate vice president and controller of the UMass Foundation.

“Her and I were able to speak extensively,” Treat said. “It was sort of the first real face-to-face conversation Divest has had with the endowment fund.”

The conference was held in Cambridge April 3-4, and was attended by 115 college, university and private foundation leaders, according to its website.

“The conference wasn’t about divestment as much as it was about what they call ESG investment. So it’s aligning your portfolio with your environmental, social and governance goals,” Treat said. “It’s basically an in-depth analysis of what it takes to get your endowment to that position.”

Treat said that although Divest and the administration had been butting heads over the past year, he and Murphy were both excited about the concept of ESG investment and realized they shared more similar goals than differences.

“They want to make sure that the endowment grows over the next hundred years—that’s their responsibility. And ours is to make sure that the world is still here in 200 years,” Treat said. “We’re trying to safeguard the same things.”

After the conference, the two kept in touch via email. Treat said he kept reiterating to Murphy that President Caret was who the divestment campaign really wanted to talk to about its responsible investing goals.

“She said that would be a great thing. She really wants to see this go forward, too,” Treat said. Murphy then went ahead and arranged the meeting.

“It makes me happy just to know that they were willing to work to find a solution. Of course we can’t expect immediate, absolute divestment…but the fact that we can work toward that is really our goal,” freshman astronomy major and campaign member Benjamin D’Haiti said.

In addition to Treat, Divest members Allison Rigney and Varshini Prakash will attend the meeting with Caret.

Although Treat didn’t go in to specifics about what Divest will discuss during the meeting, he said the three students will go in with a strategy. He added that Divest members attended negotiation training at Harvard to learn how to best approach these kinds of meetings.

Treat said that he will also meet with Chancellor Subbaswamy on April 23 to exchange notes from the Intentionally Designed Endowment Conference, and to discuss next steps.

Treat said that he was happy about the positive response from administrators to student attendance at the conference.

“They are very appreciative of our perspective,” Treat said.

“I’m super grateful and happy that the faculty is willing to work with us and doesn’t see us as a disturbance, but as a positive force in the community,” D’Haiti said. “It seems like we’re finally starting to move forward a little bit,” Treat added.

Aviva Luttrell can be reached at [email protected]