Letter: History department stands with Divest UMass

Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian
(Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian)

Dear President Marty Meehan, Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy and Chairman Victor Woolridge:

During the past two weeks, students involved in the University of Massachusetts Fossil Fuel Divestment campaign have called upon the leaders of our university to “stand on the right side of history.” We, the undersigned faculty of the history department, strongly support these students’ reasonable demand for full UMass divestment from fossil fuels.

It is fitting that youth are spearheading this movement, for young people and future generations will directly bear the costs of fossil fuels-based economic growth despite not being responsible for the climate crisis. People in the United States and around the world are already suffering the impacts of severe weather, famine, drought and the armed violence that climate change is known to exacerbate. The scientific consensus is clear: we need immediate and drastic reductions in net greenhouse gas emissions to give human society a chance at a decent future. For this to happen, most known fossil fuels reserves must stay in the ground.

The University’s full divestment from fossil fuels companies and reinvestment in clean energy and sustainable development will firmly position UMass as a national leader on climate. It will also inspire other universities to join us in transitioning to a green economy. Moreover, as the students leading the protests have made clear, such a move will advance the University’s objective, outlined in its mission statement, to “improve the lives of the people of the Commonwealth, the nation, and the world.”

As historians, we often think about the ways that future generations will remember our current era. There is no doubt that in the decades to come, as climate change produces still more human suffering and ecological destruction, those who are now confronting the fossil fuels industries will be remembered in a positive light – just as mainstream society today views the abolitionists, the civil rights organizers and the anti-apartheid activists. The same cannot be said for those who profit from fossil fuel extraction.

Given the dire urgency of the climate crisis, non-binding commitments to future divestment are inadequate. The students who have worked for three years deserve an answer while they are still on campus. We ask you to submit a specific proposal for full divestment over five years to the Board of Trustees, who will then vote on the proposal as soon as possible. We join the UMass Fossil Fuel Divestment campaign in urging you to “lead with us” in establishing UMass’ historical legacy as a forerunner in the United States’ transition to a more just and ecologically sustainable economy.


Concerned UMass Amherst History department faculty:

Christian Appy
Joye Bowman
Julio Capó, Jr.
Andrew Donson
Jennifer Fronc
David Glassberg
John Higginson
Jason Moralee
Jennifer L. Nye
Emily Redman
Sam Redman
Sigrid Schmalzer
Heidi V. Scott
Libby Sharrow
Priyanka Srivastava
Mary C. Wilson
Joel Wolfe
Kevin A. Young