That’s exactly what the bursar at St. John’s College—the most richly endowed college at Oxford—delivered when he responded to students occupying his 15th-century quadrangle and refusing to leave until the college divested its oil-company shares. The students want the college to sell the more than $10 million of its endowment now invested in Shell and BP, and they want it now.
The Times of London reports that bursar Andrew Parker made them a counteroffer. “I am not able to arrange any divestment at short notice,” he wrote. “But I can arrange for the gas central heating in college to be switched off with immediate effect. Please let me know if you support this proposal.”
The idea that the students themselves make a fossil-fuel sacrifice did not go over well. One protest organizer complained that Mr. Parker was being flippant, noting that “it’s January and it would be borderline dangerous to shut off the central heating.” Another suggested Mr. Parker was being provocative.
Again the bursar responded with wisdom: “You are right that I am being provocative but I am provoking some clear thinking, I hope. It is all too easy to request others to do things that carry no personal cost to yourself. The question is whether you and others are prepared to make personal sacrifices to achieve the goals of environmental improvement (which I support as a goal).”