The Students Engaged in Environmental Discussion and Service club, or SEEDS, has received more than 200 signatures in a petition for the University to divest its investments from fossil fuel industries.
Erik Bahnson, sophomore environmental ethics major and SEEDS club president, said that the idea of petitioning the school for divestment from fossil fuel companies came from learning about other Go Fossil Free movements worldwide.
Bahnson said that his first push to bring the petition on campus was from Stuart Wood, political science adjunct instructor, in an environmental politics special topics class.
“It had been something that had been swirling in my mind already because I’d heard news already around the divestment movement,” Bahnson said. “When I heard the ball was essentially already rolling for something at La Verne I was thinking that SEEDS would be the perfect organization to pick up the torch.”
Along with SEEDS club members and petition co-organizer Shahin Jahanvash, senior broadcasting major, worked together to bring awareness to students on campus through petitioning tables.
“We want to bring awareness to students that large universities and private universities, like ours, as well as large corporations do have stock holdings in fossil fuel companies and that although it may not seem like a big deal, at the end of the day if we are investing our money in those companies then we are in turn supporting their goals and they’re not helping the problem of climate change that we’re facing,” Jahanvash said.
Jahanvash said that the goal is to meet with the University’s financial directors to show them how many students are in support of the campaign, and how they can bring change to the University.
Professor of Biology and Biochemistry Jay Jones has voiced his support for the Go Fossil Free petition.
“What the University does in terms of its decisions really should be a reflection of the values of the institution and right now climate change, global warming and all of the other things that are associated with the use of fossil fuels would suggest that we are not true to our values if we are holding stock in our endowment portfolio that are invested in oil, gas or coal,” Jones said.
Jones said that there are other renewable energy companies the University can look to invest in instead, such as SolarCity Corporation.
“Now would be a good time to get out of the fossil fuels because their stocks right now are very high because of Trump’s pro fossil fuel actions,” Jones said.
“That’s not going to last, it can’t last and therefore those segments of the economy or market are undoubtedly not going to grow as fast or even decline after a couple of years,” he said.
Chief Financial Officer Avo Kechichian said the Board of Trustees has the final say in how the University decides to invest its endowment funds.
“The Board of Trustees have a fiduciary responsibility to make sure that they get the best returns on a risk adjusted basis for the funds that we invest in so that we can give as much money as possible in scholarships to our students,” Kechichian said.
Kechichian said that about 87 percent of the University’s investments are in mutual funds. The managers for these mutual funds select the companies that are selected for the fund and there may or may not be companies included that make profits through fossil fuels.
If the University were to fully divest from the fossil fuel industry, 87 percent of its investments would need to be liquidated, Kechichian said.
“Our portfolio has been outperforming endowments of similar size to ours,” Kechichian said. “It’s hard to ask the Trustees to dump all that and get mutual funds that don’t include fossil fuels.”
Kechichian said that he and the Board of Trustees are discussing ways to balance the need for greater returns on investments with ethical questions, much like the one brought up with investments in the fossil fuel industry.
The Board is currently looking into adopting an Environmental, Social and Governance Investing policy. With ESG investing, the University would consider ethical and environmental impacts prior to making the choice to to invest in certain companies and mutual funds.
Kechichian stressed the Board’s need to make fully informed decisions prior to being able to choose to divest from fossil fuels.
“This is not something that’s going to happen overnight,” Kechichian said. “If we liquidate all of our endowment holdings, which have been performing pretty well, and invest in something that we’re not sure will perform as well as what we have currently is a tough thing for our Board to chew on.”
For more information about Go Fossil Free campaigns worldwide visit gofossilfree.org.
To sign the on campus petition visit campaigns.gofossilfree.org/petitions/university-of-la-verne.
Christina Garcia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.