Petition fights fossil fuel investments

Junior environmental ethics major Erik Bahnson, junior biology major Kim Rossello, and sophomore computer science major Tianna Cano gather in front of the Metropolitan Water District’s solar panels, an alternative energy source that could replace fossil fuels. The Students Engaged in Environmental Discussion and Service club gathered over 200 signatures for a petition for the University to divest from the fossil fuel industry. / photo by Janelle Kluz

Aryn Plax
Editor in Chief

Erik Bahnson, president of Students Engaged in Environmental Discussion and Service club, or SEEDS, is drafting a letter to the University’s Board of Trustees to urge the University to divest not only from fossil fuel industries, but also invest in funds that comply with Environment, Social and Governance standards.

This year, Bahnson, junior environmental ethics major, has reached out to the Outdoors Club, the Botany Club and the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science.

“I’m partnering with three other clubs in creating a joint statement to present to the Board of Trustees and our chief financial officer to show that the students do support the notion of fossil fuel divestment, and I’m going to suggest a solution of moving towards an ESG stock holding,” Bahnson said.

“The current reality is that universities don’t typically choose which companies they buy stock in. Instead, they place their funds in a mutual fund, which then selects the stocks for them,” he said.

SEEDS’ initial push for divestment away from fossil fuels came about when Stuart Wood, adjunct professor of political science, discussed campaigns to get universities to end their sponsorships of fossil fuel companies.

He had started a petition in May 2017 titled “University of La Verne: Go Fossil Free!” to get the University to divest from fossil fuel companies.

SEEDS gathered 200 signatures for Wood’s petition.

“After the 2016 election, a lot of students were looking for ways to get more involved politically,” Wood said.

“There was a sense that the students wanted to do something, but didn’t know how to get involved, and so the movement I had started at ULV several years back, I brought that up, and several students in the class really took to it. It’s really been out of my hands since then,” he said.

Avo Kechichian, chief financial officer, said that between 87 and 88 percent of the University’s investments are in mutual funds.

Kechichian said that bringing in a higher yield from investments ensures the funding of scholarships awarded at the University.

The University knows only the top 10 performing company stocks and the bottom 10 stocks in their mutual funds, thanks to a report written by the investment managers on a quarterly basis.

“Last year, we did an analysis,” Kechichian said.

“Of that 87 or 88 percent, only 2.5 percent is invested in fossil fuel producing companies. The issue that we have with mutual funds is that you cannot just arbitrarily say, ‘I’m not going to invest in that one particular company.’ If you want to divest from that company, you need to divest from the whole mutual fund.”

Bahnson said that mutual funds that comply with ESG standards would be free of fossil fuel companies and other companies that either sell unethical products, maintain unethical relationships with governments, or enact unethical labor practices.

“By focusing on ESG mutual funds, we broaden the scope of student organizations, student groups on campus who would be interested in supporting this initiative, and also providing the trustees with a specific solution,” Bahnson said.

Jay Jones, professor of biology and biochemistry, is also drafting a similar letter to be presented to the Board and signed by faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences, and potentially faculty in the LaFetra College of Education.

“I’ve talked to Avo Kechichian several times and offered to make a presentation to the portion of the Board responsible for making these decisions,” Jones said.

“It’s a proposal to get the University to orderly divest the investments away from fossil fuel investments.”

Aryn Plax can be reached at

Janelle Kluz

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