VSU President’s Committee votes to divest from fossil fuels

Students, staff, faculty, and administration all say divest from fossil fuels. What will the VSU Foundation do now? One year after the committee was appointed 10 April 2014, it made a decision 8 April 2015:

S.A.V.E. applauds the decision by the President’s Special Committee on Campus Sustainability to support fossil fuel divestment. Leadership and stewardship are part and parcel to Valdosta State’s role as an institution of higher education and we call on VSU to honor these ethos by divesting from fossil fuels, ending its profiteering from ecological harm, environmental destruction, and human suffering.

Benjamin Vieth, the representative of Students Against Violating the Environment (S.A.V.E.) on that Committee, sent the above announcement after approval by S.A.V.E. Among other organizations included on that committee, following a November 2013 vote by the Faculty Environmental Issues Committee (EIC), the Faculty Senate voted 21 November 2013 for divestment. The Student Government Association (SGA) voted 4 March 2014 for divestment.

EIC, SGA, and S.A.V.E. are on the President’s Special Committee. I’m not sure about the positions of the other organizations, which include the Physical Plant, the Council on Staff Affairs, and the Center for Business and Economic Research, but it seems like at least one of them must have also voted for divestment to reach a majority.

A year may seem like a long time, but fossil fuel divestment is still faster than divestment from apartheid, tobacco, and armaments.

As then-SAVE President Danielle Jordan said when VSU opened the solar canopy at the Odum Library in October 2013,

We cannot address climate change without decreasing our dependency on fossil fuels and solar is one way we could change that.

Let’s remember that divestment is about undermining the political power of the fossil fuel industry, as Tim DeChristopher said that same month in response to Harvard President Drew Faust’s excuses for not divesting.

And that’s already happening, with the regulated-utility-campaign-funded Georgia Public Service Commission voting 11 July 2013 to make Georgia Power buy more solar power, and with solar financing bill HB 57 unanimously passing both the Georgia House and Senate in March 2015, waiting only on fossil-fuel-campaign-funded Gov. Nathan Deal to sign it.

There’s even a band of fossil free foundations. Even the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, heirs of John D. Rockefeller who started the fossil fuel industry, are divesting from tar sands.

That leaves at VSU only the VSU Foundation, which actually controls VSU’s investment fund. They were last heard from officially 29 October 2013, writing in a letter to SAVE:

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.

When even the Rockefeller Brothers Fund is divesting, can anybody seriously believe that ditching fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy stocks would be a breach of fiduciary responsibility?

When the rosiest projections for shale gas are only for 56% increase in 28 years and the LNG export boom is going bust, while U.S. solar capacity is doubling every two years? Fixing climate change is profitable. Solar power is going to win, just like the Internet did. Fiduciary responsibility might have been buying fossil fuel stocks might have been selling horse buggies in 1915, but fiduciary responsibility in 2015 would be selling fossil fuel stocks and buying renewable energy stocks.

And that’s not all stewardship is. Let’s review the VSU Trustee Handbook again:

  1. Stewardship
    • To provide an attractive vehicle for donors to use to support the University.
    • 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.

Faculty, staff, students, and administration have all said what they want: fossil fuel divestment. The consultation has happened.

Stanford listened to students, faculty, and staff and divested from coal. Harvard continues to refuse to divest, and just got written up in Time Magazine by a former student saying

It turned me from a bystander into a protester.

Which do you want, VSU Foundation?

Will you join Harvard in stonewalling divestment and get nationwide bad publicity?

Or will you join Stanford in beating Harvard, with good relations with students, staff, faculty, and administration, and good publicity to provide an attractive vehicle for donors to use to support the University?


2 thoughts on “VSU President’s Committee votes to divest from fossil fuels

  1. Merrill Guice

    When you sell your stocks in an energy company all that means is that someone else bought them. The energy company is not harmed and you do not stop the investment in that company. In other words, you have salved your conscience, and nothing else. All we are talking here is moral narcissism. if you are the only person harmed, then please, knock yourself out; however, you are not the only person harmed in this decision.

    Socially responsible funds make less money. That is why they have to be up front about it in their prospectus. They are consciously forgoing the chance to participate in a large part of the economy. The fiduciary duty of most funds is to maximize returns in the most prudent manner for their beneficiaries. The VSU Foundation would be exposing themselves to lawsuits if they decided, on purpose, to make less money. Any alumnus who contributed money to them could sue.

    Finally, I detest the term “fossil fuels” as it is based on a completely false hypothesis. The dinosaurs did not all go to one place to die, just like there is no such thing as an elephant graveyard. A more scientifically correct term is carbon based fuel. A lack of scientific rigor is why most people make poor decisions in energy policy.

  2. John S. Quarterman Post author

    Nobody is recommending divesting from energy companies, i.e., utilities, because they can change what energy sources they use.

    Fossil fuel companies (coal, oil, natural gas) are harming all of us in a number of ways.
    Foundations that remain invested in fossil fuels harm their investors by not participating in the fastest-growing industry in the world: solar power.

    But do tell us more about what dinosaurs have to do with fossil fuels.


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