On April 1, Divest McGill held a diploma returning ceremony, during which McGill alumni returned their diplomas to demonstrate their disagreement with the Board of Governors’ (BoG) decision to not divest from fossil fuel companies. The ceremony took place in front of the James Administration Building and began with nine students and members of Divest McGill exiting the James Administration Building after four days of participating in a sit-in outside of Principal Suzanne Fortier’s office.
Chloé Laflamme, U2 biochemistry and an organizer with Divest McGill, explained that the diploma return was an initiative started by two McGill alumni, Karel Mayrand and Camil Bouchard.
“After our Fossil Free Week in September, […] they came here and pledged to return their degrees to McGill if McGill had not divested by March 30, and [they] invited all alumni who wanted to join them to do so,” Laflamme said.
Thirteen graduates returned their diploma and six proxies were present for the alumni who had mailed in their diplomas but could not be present at the event.
Bouchard, who obtained a PhD in philosophy in 1974 at McGill, explained that he returned his diploma because the institution’s investment in fossil fuels conflicts with his own values.
“I have […] a profound attachment to McGill,” he said. “[But] from now on, I do not feel able to represent McGill in my professional, or other activities. Therefore I will also remove from my name ‘PhD McGill 1974’ until McGill changes its policies and decides to divest from petroleum.”
Naghameh Sabet, Biochemistry ‘88, who works at Scotiabank as a portfolio manager, expressed her disagreement with the BoG’s decision, and announced that one of her clients would refrain from making a $2 million donation to McGill due to its fossil fuel investments.
“We called McGill, we met with the specific department to receive the $2 million, […] until we got to the point that we were ready to sign,” Sabet said. “When we received the famous email from you, [Principal] Fortier, I informed my client and we are very sorry to say we are not going to contribute the $2 million to McGill anymore [….] If McGill does not reverse their decision, that money will be contributed to another educational institution that acts a little more wisely.”
Director of Internal Communications at McGill, Doug Sweet, explained that there were no current plans for the BoG to re-open this discussion.
“I have no idea whether they plan to reconsider, but an educated guess would say it’s unlikely,” Sweet said.
Sweet also noted that McGill alumni are a heterogenous body.
“[Our alumni are] a large and diverse community, as is the community on campus,” Sweet said. “Different people hold different views and McGill respects and understands that.”
Laflamme explained that the ceremony demonstrated the concern of a larger community that is not always visible on campus.
“People who have left the McGill physical community also do not agree with the direction that the university is going in,” Laflamme said.
Laflamme further added that Divest McGill members will continue their campaign until the university’s position and decision process reflect the McGill community’s interests.
“We definitely feel that the process is not over,” Laflamme said. “The [BoG’s decision], we thought, was extremely inaccessible to the community and had a huge lack of transparency. If there’s going to be a final decision that is made, it has to be done properly with consultation of everybody who will be involved.”