Barnard College to Divest from Companies Questioning Climate Change Concerns

Published January 11, 2018

The New York City women’s school affiliated with Columbia University announced in December 2017 it will eliminate investments in such companies on the recommendation of a taskforce formed in response to a student group that demanded the college divest from companies that question climate change concerns.

Climate Criteria

Barnard, which has an endowment of approximately $327 million, released its criteria for determining which companies the college will hold stock in.

“What is the company’s position on climate change?” is the first question on the list. Others include, “What are the company’s affiliations with third parties that spread disinformation on climate science?” and “Does the company publicly support the need for climate policies and regulations?”

The standards require companies to proclaim they favor climate change regulations and will mandate the endowment shun organizations expressing doubt about the severity of warming. “Barnard is the first college to take the unique and innovative approach of divesting from climate change deniers,” the college said in a statement accompanying the release of the criteria.


Sterling Burnett, a senior fellow of The Heartland Institute, which publishes School Reform News, says Barnard’s policy is “virtue-signaling,” a term for actions that proclaim one’s moral superiority without achieving any other useful purpose.

“Barnard College’s virtue-signaling is hypocritical and likely to be a disservice to the college and its endowment—for which I suspect they have trust fiduciary responsibilities—and in the end will have no effect on climate change,” Burnett said.

“Unless the college divests itself of all fossil fuels, invests in batteries for energy storage, builds its own wind turbines and solar panels, and goes off the grid entirely, it will benefit from and use the fossil fuels it seeks to condemn as it lights its buildings and operates its refrigeration, air conditioning, and heating systems to keep its faculty and staff comfortable in their offices and the students cozy in their dorms, all the while complaining about the fossil fuels which provide the benefits they take advantage of,” Burnett said.

‘Smelly Little Orthodoxy’

Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, says it’s improper to use an endowment to push a political agenda.

“Universities from their beginnings in the eleventh and twelfth centuries have defended discredited theories and resisted new thinking,” Ebell said. “I am more disturbed that Barnard’s trustees seem to think it proper to use their financial clout to enforce orthodoxy rather than put their trust in free and open academic debate to vindicate their views on global warming.

“But universities are free to invest their endowments as they see fit,” Ebell said. “I only hope that Barnard’s attempt to enforce their smelly little orthodoxy will result in much lower returns on their investments and that people will stop making financial contributions to Barnard and similarly close-minded institutions.”   

Jane S. Shaw ([email protected]) is School Reform News’ higher education editor.