Fossil Fuel Divestment, Higher Education Institutions, and the Corporate Community: Corporate Influence on Institutional Environmental Policy

Saturday, 21 July 2018: 12:45
Oral Presentation
JP SAPINSKI, University of Victoria, Canada
Michael DREILING, University of Oregon, USA
Jeffrey A. EWING, University of Oregon, USA
Patrick T. GREINER, University of Oregon, USA
Climate change campaigners have made a strong moral and financial case for universities and other institutional investors to divest from fossil fuels, even though the argument remains contested. Reflecting the ambiguity of whether divestment would concur with trustees’ fiduciary mandate or would contravene to it, several higher education institutions have divested from fossil fuels whereas others have decided not to. This paper develops a structural perspective of divestment decisions among higher education institutions in the United States. Building on studies showing that the embeddedness of colleges and universities within a web of interlocking corporate directorates impacts on policy decisions through various mechanisms, we analyze how these board-level connections with the corporate community influences institutional decisions to divest or not. Using social network analysis tools, we map out the patterns of corporate connections maintained by college and university board members and trustees, with special attention to connections with the fossil fuel industry. Analysis uses quadratic assignment procedure regression to determine how the structural embeddedness of higher education boards within the intercorporate network affects the probability and level of divestment commitment by universities and colleges based in the United States. This analysis will shed light on some of the mechanisms of corporate influence in higher education, and on institutional-level environmental policy.