In May 2021, the Board of Trustees authorized the creation of an administrative process to guide dissociation from fossil fuel companies that participate in climate disinformation campaigns or otherwise spread climate disinformation and from companies in the thermal coal and tar sands segments of the fossil fuel industry unless they prove able to meet a rigorous standard for their greenhouse gas emissions. The decision was the result of a thoughtful process around the question of fossil fuel dissociation that included input from stakeholders across the campus community and culminated in a set of recommendations to the Board from the Resources Committee of the Council of the Princeton University Community (CPUC).
Divestment, dissociation, and the relationship between the two
At Princeton, the Board of Trustees has ultimate responsibility for all investment matters. Divestment decisions are informed by Guidelines for Consideration of Investment-Driven Social Responsibility Issues. According to these guidelines, divestment entails the sale of all securities associated with a company, including both direct and indirect investments, and precludes the repurchasing of those securities. The purpose of divestment is to separate from companies whose conduct contravenes the values of the University.
Dissociation goes beyond just divestment. Dissociating means divesting as well as refraining, to the greatest extent possible, from soliciting or accepting gifts from a company, purchasing the company’s products, forming partnerships with the company, and facilitating the company’s campus engagement activities.
For Princeton, divestment means dissociation. This is based on the notion that if the University should not be associated with a company or an activity that conflicts with its values as a matter of investment policy, then it also should dissociate from it in other aspects of its operations.
Dissociation may permit, however, continued engagement with a company aimed at improving its conduct or standards such that dissociation is no longer necessary.
The dissociation process
To implement the dissociation decision made by the Board of Trustees last spring, the University is seeking impartial scholarly advice from a panel of its faculty with expertise in fields including environmental studies, ethics, economics, public policy, and engineering, to address a set of relevant questions. The charge to the panel asks that it present its findings in a public written report. The panel is also encouraged to update the broader community periodically while its work is in progress.
An administrative committee will use the findings of the faculty panel to propose for Board approval a set of actionable criteria for dissociation and a process for implementing them, now and in the future. The administrative committee aims to complete its work by the end of this academic year.