MIT Divest meets with Attorney General’s Office regarding legal complaint

Cohen: Attorney General’s Office deemed the complaint ‘unquestionably compelling in its advocacy’

MIT Divest members met with members of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office in an hour-long virtual meeting April 8 regarding a legal complaint filed February 16; MIT Divest had filed the complaint to “investigate continued investment in the fossil fuel sector by school trustees.”

Aaliya Hussain ’25, Peter Scott ’23, Ellie Rabenold ’23, and Jess Cohen ’22 spoke with undisclosed members of the Attorney General’s Office and “some other divestment supporters,” according to a statement provided to The Tech by Cohen. The statement reported that there were “multiple people” from the Attorney General’s Office present, and that “based on who was present and their questions, it seems they are taking the legal complaint seriously.”

Cohen’s statement also detailed the proceedings of the meeting: the meeting reportedly began with introductions and an outline of Divest’s history and that of MIT’s previous divestment support coalition, Fossil Free MIT. 

The Attorney General’s Office would go on to ask about MIT’s 2015 Climate Action Plan (CAP), about MIT’s current CAP, and about the MIT Investment Management Company (MITIMCo). 

Divest members explained to the meeting attendees that the 2015 CAP, which was based off of the work of Fossil Free MIT since 2013, had been criticized “by a wide variety of people for being too narrow and shallow,” and that it focused too specifically on MIT’s needs and research initiatives without “considering MIT’s influential niche in the larger world.”

The 2015 CAP was also criticized for outlining very sparing goals, such as “reducing emissions by 32% by 2030.” 

Divest also highlighted the 2021 CAP, stating that though MIT has emphasized engagement with fossil fuel companies — joining and creating groups to facilitate engagement — the Institute has failed to provide “any clear response on tangible actions they have taken.” 

Divest’s interactions with MITIMCo, the entity “that is in charge of the endowment,” were also a point of interest for the Attorney General’s Office. Divest responded that MITIMCo released their framework for environment, social, and governance investment (ESG Framework) publicly at the behest of Divest. Divest members told the meeting attendees that they felt that “reading through the principles, it is clear” that MITIMCo had used the principles to “skirt the question of divestment,” and that “it is clear” from the wording of the framework that “MITIMCo is looking to avoid the symptoms of climate change while still remaining invested in the root of the problem” (the ESG Framework uses climate change as a case study). 

Divest members closed by sharing with meeting attendees that they see “no proper response or genuine acknowledgement” of their concerns despite appealing through various formal channels, such as engaging with administrators directly, going through student governments, forming committees, and issuing recommendations. 

Cohen shared that the Attorney General’s Office deemed the complaint “unquestionably compelling in its advocacy,” and noted that a “lot of work and thought is going into this from both ends.”

MIT Divest will be holding a rally and letter-writing session April 22 to push forward their demands for divestment and to give the MIT community a chance to pass on “any concerns they might have” to President L. Rafael Reif. 

The complaint Divest has filed with the Attorney General’s Office is one of five such complaints filed by universities with their respective state Attorney General’s Offices (Yale, Stanford, Princeton, and Vanderbilt have filed with the Connecticut, California, New Jersey, and Tennessee Offices, respectively). As the complaints were being filed, Divest held a three-day sit-in outside Reif’s office.