Students seek to rid their Universities of endowment holdings in Fossil Fuels

By Chris Riotta

In a grass roots effort to spark climate reform, college students from dozens of college campuses nationwide are making similar requests to university officials: sell off institutional endowment fund holdings in large fossil fuel companies.

Many students are hopeful that their demands will force climate reform, after a campaign season that rarely focused on the subject of climate change.

Throughout the three national presidential debates, a sub-plot developed regarding the omission of an open climate change discussion.  Similarly, neither candidate openly embraced a stance toward global warming throughout the election season. However, the President’s post-reelection remarks seemed to suggest a willingness to now speak openly about energy policies and improving the environment.

Now, students are taking matters into their own hands.

“We’ve reached this point of intense urgency that we need to act on climate change now, but the situation is bleaker than it’s ever been from a political perspective,” said William Lawrence, a Swarthmore senior from East Lansing, Mich.

“In the near future, the political tide will turn and the public will demand action on climate change,” Stephen Mulkey, the Unity College president, wrote in a letter to other college administrators. “Our students are already demanding action, and we must not ignore them.”

A student vote at Harvard University, which holds the largest university endowment in the United states with $31 billion dollars, had a 72% majority vote to push the college to eliminate funds in oil, gas, and coal stocks.

“We always appreciate hearing from students about their viewpoints, but Harvard is not considering divesting from companies related to fossil fuels,” Kevin Galvin, a university spokesman, said by e-mail.

Harvard is not alone in wanting to keep its holdings.  No school with an endowment exceeding $1 billion has agreed to their students requests.  However, many of these campuses have taken steps toward climate reform at their students request by cutting energy consumption and installing solar panels.

Yet students at these schools are pushing for greater reforms.  A small institution in Maine, Unity College, has already voted to get out of fossil fuels.  Another, Hampshire College in Massachusetts, has adopted a broad investment policy that is ridding its portfolio of fossil fuel stocks.  Students at larger universities are continuing efforts to reform their universities’ portfolios.