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Barnard President Debora Spar said she will prioritize fossil fuel divestment and diversity and inclusion in her last four months at the college before she resigns.

With just four months left at Barnard before she officially resigns, President Debora Spar has said she will prioritize completing two major initiatives she spearheaded during her tenure: fossil fuel divestment and diversity and inclusion on campus.

In an interview with Spectator last Thursday, Spar defended her decision to resign in advance of her June 2018 contract date and the end of the academic year, stating that four months was enough time to complete these priorities and ensure a smooth transition.

To tackle these issues, two presidential task forces—the Presidential Task Force to Examine Divestment and the President's Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion—were created last year to assess areas of improvement and present recommendations for policy changes and initiatives to the board of trustees at its March meeting.

While this meeting will essentially signify the end of each task force's work, the issues of fossil fuel divestment and diversity at Barnard will still remain to be addressed depending on the outcome of the board of trustees' votes.

Presidential Task Force to Examine Divestment

Almost a year after its inauguration, the Presidential Task Force to Examine Divestment is set to provide a definitive recommendation to the board of trustees' Committee on Investments regarding whether Barnard should divest from fossil fuels. The COI will then report these findings to the larger board during its December meeting, and the final vote on divestment will take place at its meeting in March—the same month Spar is scheduled to leave the college.

The task force was created by a unanimous vote by the board last December following calls from student activist group Divest Barnard for the college to divest from fossil fuels.

Since the task force—composed of Barnard trustees, faculty members, and students—started meeting last February, it has assessed the social and economic impacts of fossil fuel divestment for the college and is finalizing an economic analysis report of the possible ways that Barnard could divest from fossil fuels.

This report could offer a variety of recommendations, including no divestment, investment in a sustainability fund, divestment from coal, divestment from fossil fuel companies that deny climate science, and total divestment from fossil fuels.

At present, Barnard's endowment—which totalled $286.6 million as of June 30—is invested with 13 other institutions through a commingled fund operated by the firm Investure, LLC. Approximately 6 percent of Barnard's endowment is currently invested in fossil fuels.

Although the task force will provide its own formal recommendation, the decision will ultimately rest with the board of trustees.

During the task force's final open meeting last month, chief operating officer and task force chair Rob Goldberg said that should the board ultimately vote to divest from fossil fuels, the process would not be immediate, given that the process of detangling finances from investment portfolios could last several years. Therefore, even if Barnard decides to divest in any form by the time Spar departs the college, the process will only have just begun.

President's Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion

Last December, Spar announced the creation of the President's Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion, a group dedicated to "coordinate, evaluate, and establish campus-wide diversity initiatives" by 2020 that would increase the representation of students, faculty, and staff from socially distinct and historically underrepresented backgrounds, ensure equal treatment for all members of the community, and create campus culture intent on promoting diversity as part of academic excellence.

The task force—co-chaired by Spar and Dean for Faculty Diversity and Development Debra Minkoff and including trustees, faculty members, and students—was created after the formation of the Committee on Faculty Diversity and Development in 2009.

The FDD, which works in conjunction with the task force, was developed to maintain and improve faculty diversity by developing and promoting open and fair hiring practices, faculty mentorship programs, and increased support for department chairs when preparing reappointments and tenure cases.

Since the creation of the FDD and the task force, there has been some evidence of improvement, including a cluster of hiring in the Africana studies department in 2010, the development of a set of codified protocols to improve diverse hiring, and the creation of a $20,000 presidential fund that allows students to implement their own diversity and inclusion initiatives on campus.

Still, improvements regarding diversity have been slow at the college, and faculty members interviewed by Spectator last February also remained doubtful as to whether both groups possessed the necessary administrative support to create concrete, institutional changes.

Although the task force held its first meeting in February and was originally scheduled to present its findings to the board of trustees by the end of the 2016-17 school year, according to Barnard's website, the timeline has since been accelerated.

The task force is now scheduled to present its findings this March following several community forums that will take place in January and February, according to Spar.

"I am really determined to see both of those projects to their completion," Spar said.

aubri.juhasz@columbiaspectator.com | @AubriRuth

Debora Spar barnard fossil fuel divestment diversity and inclusion
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