Students occupy St John's College in opposition to in opposition of its investment in fossil fuels

Oxford alumni threaten to withhold donations to college amid row over fossil fuels

‘The heat has really turned up on colleges who have own endowments,’ warns alumnus

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Tuesday 04 February 2020 19:42

Alumni of the Oxford college attended by Tony Blair and Evan Davies are threatening to withhold donations unless it commits to selling shares in fossil fuel companies.

Hundreds of graduates have signed a letter to St John’s College urging bosses to cut all ties with fossil fuel firms after students camped out in the college quad to protest against investments.

The college, which is the wealthiest in Oxford, currently invests around £8m in BP and Shell.

A five-day student occupation, which ended on Sunday, attracted support from Oxford alumni around the world — including award-winning poet and writer Mark Abley.

But the group of graduates has accused college leaders of “dismissing” the action taken by students.

It comes after Professor Andrew Parker, principal bursar of the college, told students demanding divestment that he could instead arrange for the gas central heating to be switched off.

The letter from alumni, which has been sent to Professor Parker and the college’s president, says: “In light of your troubling response to this peaceful occupation and continued refusal to align your endowment with climate justice, as alumni and alumnae, we cannot in good faith donate to St John’s, the University of Oxford, or any college which has not made a divestment commitment at this time.”

Last month, an analysis revealed that almost all of Britain’s top universities have pledged to at least partially divest from fossil fuels following years of campaigning from students.

Oxford and Cambridge have committed to remove investments from coal and tar sands companies, but they are still subject to student-led campaigns over their links to the fossil fuel industry

Just last week, another Oxford college, Balliol College, agreed to reduce investments in fossil fuel companies “as far and as fast as is practicable” following increasing pressure from students.

Julia Peck, who launched the open letter on behalf of alumni, 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.”

(Suzanne Williams )

A spokesperson for St John’s College said the college had received a lot of correspondence following the protests, adding that the views expressed “have been mixed and on both sides of the debate”.

They said: “We would like to assure you that, like many of our students, the president, bursar and fellows of St John’s are deeply concerned about climate change — indeed some directly work on aspects of it.

The college is 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.”

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