SAVE fossil fuel divestment on Spectator front page twice in two weeks

Winning PR by losing initial decisions: SAVE‘s doing it right.

Will Lewis write for The Spectator yesterday, SAVE fails to persuade Foundation,

“Compliance with your well-intentioned request is impractical for a number of reasons and perhaps even a breach of the fiduciary responsibility that all of our trustees take very seriously,” the refusal read.

Here’s SAVE’s request, and here’s SAVE’s president’s comment:

Danielle Jordan, senior anthropology major and president of SAVE, said, “There’s a lot of disappointment but we are not going to stop, we don’t see this as the end of our campaign. It lets us know where we stand with the Board of Trustees.”

The VSU Foundation’s Investment Objectives in the Investment Policy and Guidelines states that “Foundation funds should be invested to produce maximum total return consistent with prudent risk limits.”

On the other hand, the VSU Trustee Handbook says the Mission Statement of the VSU Foundation is:

The Foundation exists to support the development of educational excellence at Valdosta State University. It does so by attracting and involving leaders from among the University’s alumni and friends in this endeavor. The Foundation’s primary efforts shall be directed toward attracting, receiving, investing, managing, and expending gifts and other resources designated for the educational programs of the University.

And on the same page:

  1. Stewardship
    • To provide an attractive vehicle for donors to use to support the Univer sity.
    • To maintain a relationship with the University which inspires the confidence of faculty, staff, students, and administration.
    • To invest the endowments held in trust for the University to achieve returns among the best in the country for endowments of similar size.
    • To invest the Foundation’s resources in consultation with the University to take advantage of unusual opportunities to advance the University when these opportunities would not otherwise be available to the University.

Students are offering an unusual opportunity to advance the university by divesting from toxic stocks and investing in renewable energy that will produce better returns. How is sneering at that (and at science), as the VSU Foundation just did, maintaining a relationship with students or providing an attractive vehicle for donors to use to support the University?

Or faculty. We’ve already seen Dr. Matthew Richard’s response (“Only by demanding corporate accountability and responsibility can we safeguard public health and allow our fragile planet begin to heal itself.”).

Here’s another, quoted in The Spectator article:

“They made the decision very hastily, without directly interviewing the students who made this request,” Dr. Bradley Bergstrom, biology professor, said. “That, alone, suggests they did not take the request seriously, and the unfortunate decision by the Board chairman to insult the students’ efforts with a sarcastic letter belies the personal bias of the letter writer and shows his contempt for their genuine concerns, which happen to be shared by many of the faculty at VSU.”

And another:

Dr. Michael Noll, professor of geosciences, disagrees with the idea that fiduciary and environmental responsibilities are mutually exclusive.

The Spectator included a few quotes from Dr. Noll; here’s the full statement he sent them that they excerpted:

Reflections on the BOT Response to SAVE

The response by VSU’s Board of Trustees (BOT) to SAVE’s divestment campaign is mindboggling. It suggests the board believes it knows more about global climate change than climatologists do, who have studied this phenomenon for decades. If more than 95% of all scientists agree that global warming is real and mainly caused by human activity, it is time to wake up.

The BOT also seems in such a hurry to respond to SAVE’s request to divest from fossil fuels that its members do not take the time to wait until after a panel has taken place at VSU, focusing on the very issue. Such reactionary behavior speaks to a lack of thorough research which, for all practical purposes, acts as an obstacle to developing a portfolio that can be both profitable as well as socially and environmentally responsible. Still, I have difficulties to believe that even the most conservative BOT members prefer to invest in stocks connected with, say, an Apartheid-like regime or the fracking industry, if better alternatives are available.

Fiduciary responsibility and social and environmental responsibilities do not have to contradict each other. A recently published article by Forbes Magazine and indices like the S&P 500 show that companies like Publix are doing better than Wal-Mart, and that the solar industry creates better returns than the coal industry, a simple fact that was also recently pointed out by my colleague Dr. Matthew Richard. Interestingly enough, even companies like Wal-Mart invest heavily in solar, although they have yet to invest in their own people. But we will get there, one step at the time, provided that we dare to educate ourselves, reevaluate old paradigms, and develop new strategies that benefit all of us, including the environment we live in.

Dr. Michael G. Noll


How about some stewardship, VSU Foundation?

Here’s another chance, with facebook invitation:

Jordan said SAVE will host a panel discussion Nov. 12 about climate change and the divestment strategy.

The panel will be held in the Powell Hall Auditorium.

Will anybody from the VSU Foundation bother to show up?