Power, Neoliberalism and Blame Avoidance: Why University Officials Resist Divestment




Jorgenson, Ida

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The Fossil Fuel Divestment movement has experienced rapid growth in recent years, primarily based on the argument that ‘if it is wrong to wreck the climate, then it is wrong to profit from that wreckage’, but Canadian universities are still resisting calls to divest their endowments. This research is an attempt to understand why university leaders continue to refuse divestment, by considering the underlying socioeconomic norms and behaviours which prohibit this action. I suggest that in most situations it is a subtle form of power that is inhibiting university officials from divesting, which operates through social relations and norms to shape actor’s ideas about how the world does and should work. The rise of neoliberalism has shifted universities to a corporate style of management, caused closer ties to industry and influenced the type of people who reach positions of power within universities, issues which are compounded by blame avoidance strategies. We have created a system where actions like divestment appear unacceptable because divestment rejects the profit first mentality of neoliberalism, challenges social connections of university leaders, creates tension for universities’ industry connections and requires leaders to reject blame avoidance.



fossil fuel divestment, Canadian universities, divest endowments, university leaders, neoliberalism, corporate management of universities