College News

UW System students ask foundations to divest

The UW Foundation said they are obligated to maximize the impact of gifts made to the university.

Image By: Morgan Winston and Morgan Winston

When Robby Abrahamian stepped onto the UW-Stevens Point campus as a freshman in 2013, he immediately began passing petitions, dropping banners, and asking the student government to take an initiative in divesting from fossil fuels. At that time the movement was only a few years old, but interest in clean energy had already spread to college campuses and other institutions across the country.

Divesting from financial investments in coal, oil and gas companies has grown rapidly from Abrahamian’s freshman year. According to a report assembled by UW System Student Representatives, as of December 2016, 641 institutions across the nation have made a commitment to divest from fossil fuel companies, equaling an approximate value of $3.4 trillion.

Abrahamian, now a senator in UW-Stevens Point’s student government association, said he wants the UW System to be at the forefront of the campaign.

“Our universities are supposed to be innovators and leading the way,” he said. “We should support environmentally sustainable and ethical practices because that’s what universities have always been about.”

In the spring of 2016, Abrahamian introduced the motion to the UW System Student Representatives calling for their support in total financial divestment from fossil fuel companies.

The UW System Student Representatives passed Abrahamian’s legislation at a meeting last December. The resolution, sent to all UW foundations and chancellors, demonstrated student backing in complete divestment from the top 200 fossil fuel companies by all UW System foundations by 2022.

“It’s a big deal that all of the UW campuses got together and passed legislation,” Abrahamian said. “It shows how the student body collectively really supports this.”

The UW System foundations are the main source for handling gifts and donations, as well as responsible for the investments of all the UW campuses’ endowments.

Vince Sweeney, the Vice President for Communications at the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association, said that the foundations’ primary roles are to ensure financial support for the university, but can look into alternative investment opportunities.

“Our investment policies remain driven by the obligation to maximize the impact of gifts made in support of UW-Madison,” Sweeney said. “In the meantime, we will continue to engage in conversations with our peers and monitor any new developments in this area,”

Abrahamian said that the point of the resolution is to put pressure on foundations to adapt to the changing energy market without losing any money.

“We don’t want them to lose the ability to maximize profit,” he said. “But we do want them to make divestment a priority and speed up the overall process.”

At the December Student Representative meeting, some voiced concerns regarding potential financial and political implications from divestment mentioned in a 2013 report done by a UW-Madison committee on fossil fuel use and climate change.

“Regardless of these concerns, we’re most concerned about the environment,” Chair of UW Student Representatives Graham Pearce said.

While waiting for a response from foundations, student representatives will discuss adding a temporary director position. According to Abrahamian, the representative would be responsible for “keeping all of the UW foundations accountable.”

“We don’t want this resolution to just get brushed under the rug. We want to talk about options,” Abrahamian said.

According to Abrahamian, this resolution is only one of the many “bold statements” that UW students are making in order to be more environmentally conscious. He mentioned UW-Milwaukee leading the initiative to create a power purchase agreement for the UW system which would bring renewable energy at a more affordable rate.

“Our generation wants change,” Abrahamian said. “As students we don’t always have many outlets to act on climate change, so we’re organizing together to address this big issue.”

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