FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  December 7th, 2020 

Contact: 

  • Brian Obach (845) 943-9617 / brianobach@gmail.com
  • Scott Minkoff (301) 806-0267 / sminkoff@gmail.com
  • Caroline Levine 608-215-0485 / provokingdemocracy@gmail.com
  • Iris Marie Bloom (215) 840-6489 / protectingourwaters@gmail.com

SUNY New Paltz Faculty Senate Pushes TIAA to Halt Climate-Harming Investments

Passes Resolution urging TIAA to divest from fossil fuels and deforestation risk

Part of larger push to divest billions from climate destruction

NEW PALTZ, NY – On Wednesday, December 2nd, the SUNY New Paltz Faculty Senate passed an historic university faculty resolution pushing financial giant TIAA to divest from fossil fuels and from deforestation-risk investments. The faculty’s union chapter also passed a similar resolution on December 3rd. The measures are part of a growing effort to pressure pension funds and other financial institutions to end support for the fossil fuel industry. Two SUNY New Paltz faculty members, Brian Obach and Scott Minkoff, co-wrote the resolutions. 

“How can we be against climate change while at the same time be sponsoring the fossil fuel industry through our retirement funds?” asked Brian Obach, SUNY New Paltz Professor of Sociology. “The New Paltz faculty have spoken: we want TIAA to take our money out of the climate change industry.”   

The resolutions build on remarkable advances in fossil fuel divestment worldwide. Forty-seven more religious institutions just committed to full fossil fuel divestment, bringing the total number of religious institutions committed to divestment to about 400. The Bank of America also became the last major bank to withdraw funding for Arctic drilling, as concern about the climate emergency continues to grow.

Scott Minkoff, the SUNY New Paltz faculty member who introduced the resolution to the Faculty Senate, commented, “SUNY has more than 40,000 academic and professional faculty across 29 campuses. Many of those people are invested with TIAA, and we hope that campus leaders across the state will join us in advocating for divestment from fossil fuel holdings and agribusiness companies associated with deforestation and human rights abuses. Collectively, we can really make a difference.” Minkoff is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science and International Relations.

The New Paltz community first learned about TIAA’s fossil fuel investments, estimated at $8.5 billion, when members of New Paltz Climate Action Coalition got arrested last November during a nonviolent climate action organized by ResistCVE. They shut down construction, for one day, of the largest fracked gas electric power plant in the Northeast, the Cricket Valley Energy Center (CVEC) in Dutchess County, only to learn that TIAA is a major owner of CVEC.   

“Imagine our surprise when, despite the clean green image of TIAA, we found out they were directly responsible for building CVEC, the fracked gas power plant which is already harming residents’ health in a vulnerable, rural and largely low-income community, while putting one of the East Coast’s largest freshwater wetlands in harm’s way from toxic pollutants,” commented Iris Marie Bloom, Director of Protecting Our Waters and a co-organizer of TIAA Divest! “We took a deeper look and found that TIAA remains deeply committed to fossil fuel investments, and to landholdings in Brazil which are associated with deforestation, human rights violations and displacement of indigenous communities. So we initiated a “TIAA Divest from Climate Destruction!” campaign right away.” The campaign posts information and breaking news at tiaa-divest.org.

That campaign now extends to multiple campuses, including Bard, Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, The New School, and UNC-Asheville, among others.  Caroline Levine, Ryan Professor of the Humanities at Cornell University, affirmed, “The SUNY New Paltz faculty is already inspiring other campuses to ask questions about TIAA’s continuing investments in fossil fuels and deforestation. We are planning to follow their lead at Cornell. Their resolution should wake us all up to TIAA’s investments in climate catastrophe.”

The SUNY New Paltz resolutions act as a nonviolent shot across the bow of TIAA, which is actively searching for a new CEO to replace Roger Ferguson when he steps down in March. The TIAA Divest! campaign “strongly encourages TIAA to pick a CEO who will guide them through the process of divestment from fossil fuel holdings and deforestation risk investments, which are unjust, harm climate, and reduce the likelihood of human survival.”  

“As we watch this disaster unfold,” Brian Obach concluded, “we may find ourselves asking the same question asked by those who have borne witness to injustice and disaster throughout history, ‘could I have done more to stop this?’ There is good reason to do more; there is no basis for doing less.” 

NOTES:

Brian Obach and Scott Minkoff are speaking as individuals with titles included for identification purposes only.  Their views are not intended to represent those of SUNY New Paltz or the larger SUNY system.

The SUNY New Paltz Faculty Senate is the representative governance body of the SUNY New Paltz academic and professional faculty. It passed the resolution on December 2nd, 2020.  The SUNY New Paltz chapter of the Union of University Professionals (UUP), an American Federation of Teachers (AFT) affiliate, passed their resolution on December 3rd, 2020.

●        “‘Huge News’: Nearly Four Dozen Faith Institutions Announce Divestment from Fossil Fuels” 11/16/2020 Common Dreamshttps://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/11/16/huge-news-nearly-four-dozen-faith-institutions-announce-divestment-fossil-fuels

●        “Bank of America Latest to Say No To Arctic Drilling” 11/30/2020 Barrons https://www.barrons.com/news/bank-of-america-latest-to-say-no-to-financing-arctic-drilling-01606783806

●        Rainforest Action Network slams TIAA’s nonexistent fossil fuel investment policy https://insurance-scorecard.com/view/?Value=tiaa&password


December 1st, 2020 – Roger Ferguson to step down as TIAA CEO, may join Biden administration.
On November 17th, TIAA’s President and CEO Roger Ferguson announced him upcoming retirement, effective March 31st, 2021. 
As the individual at the top the TIAA-Nuveen management  pyramid, we at TIAA-DIVEST! have been focusing our messaging directly at Roger Ferguson. We have no doubt that whoever is sitting in the CEO seat at TIAA has the power to change TIAA’s investment strategy towards climate and social justice. Ferguson is on his way out, possibly to lead the Biden administration’s National Economic Council, so we will need to recalibrate. 


Now that TIAA-Divest’s organizers have had the opportunity to digest the news and to strategize, we realize that this change is a tremendous opportunity. There will be a new captain at TIAA’s helm, and we want TIAA to hire a leader who understands that TIAA’s tremendous economic power needs to be handled responsibly. 
TIAA’s beneficiaries (That’s YOU if you have a TIAA retirement account) need to demand that TIAA hires a new CEO who can pull them out of their current fossil fueled, deforestation powered, 19th century mindset and who understands that TIAA can’t meet it’s client’s needs unless it:

  • Immediately stops new investments in fossil fuel production, processing and infrastructure.
  • Publishes a detailed investment policy describing how TIAA will extract itself from deforestation risk lands, land grabbing and industrial scale agribusiness that forces independent farmers off their land and steals the homes of indigenous peoples.
  • Immediately stops fighting New York’s clean energy policies. And immediately sells its Cricket Valley Energy Center fracked gas power plant. (TIAA claims they can’t find a buyer, but TIAA-DIVEST maintains an open offer to buy the plant in order to shut it down!)

 This is the chance for you to do something! Please take 5 minutes to let TIAA know that their next CEO needs to be a true visionary who’ll take TIAA’s billions of dollars out of the extraction economy and use it to power a new clean, just and responsible retirement system that won’t bleed their clients savings into oil industry’s losing holes in the ground.