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Loyola Senate to discuss fossil fuel divestment

After two years of discussion between university staff, faculty and students, the subject of greener investment practices has made its way to the university senate— a governing body that consists of faculty, staff and administrators.

Fossil fuel divestment and endowment practices are on the Dec. 5 meeting agenda of the university senate, which will be a platform for the senate to issue recommendations to the provost and president of the university, according to Dr. Noah Sobe, a member of the university senate.

Until December, students and faculty plan to continue their research and discussions on two possible paths for the university to take. The first involves divesting — or withdrawing an investment — from fossil fuel companies. The second is to move toward a socially responsible investment strategy, in which the university uses its endowment — university donations from alumni and others — to invest in green companies and/or locally owned businesses.

Loyola currently invests in some of the country’s largest fossil fuel companies, according to Eric Jones, treasurer and chief investment officer at Loyola, while less than 1 percent of university investments are directly in fossil fuel companies. The university’s endowment is valued at about $550 million, he said, which is what makes up the majority of the $750 million investments. The remaining $200 million comes from other university funds that are also invested.

Fossil fuel energy sources are developed from the remains of plant and animal life that lived millions of years ago, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. When these energy sources are burned, they produce gases that trap heat in the atmosphere and cause it to warm.

The idea of divesting from fossil fuels, such as coal or gas, has been part of a movement led by 350.org, an organization dedicated to leading campaigns that help to prevent the climate change caused by burning these resources. 

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Many universities around the country, such as Stanford University and Harvard University, have already committed to or are campaigning for fossil fuel divestment. Since the movement began in 2011, roughly 400 college campuses nationwide have active divestment campaigns, according to the 2014 U.N. Climate Summit.

In June 2014, the University of Dayton was the first Catholic institution to commit to divestment, according to 350.org. Loyola would be the first Jesuit institution to do so, Jones said.

“I think this is an opportunity for us to be leaders,” Jones said. “But I think it’s bigger than just divestment. There’s more that we can and should do than just divestment.”

Faculty members across the university have also gotten involved. Dr. Sandra Sullivan-Dunbar, a professor of theology, drafted a letter in early October to the university senate specifically in support of fossil fuel divestment. Dunbar took the lead in writing the letter, she said, but a number of other faculty members helped with it.

The letter, which has collected 171 signatures, has been distributed campus-wide via e-mail, according to Dunbar, who has been responsible for adding the names of supportive faculty and staff to the list.

Students are also active in the discussion. Beginning in 2012, Kelly Hof, 21, said she and other members of the Student Environmental Alliance began to discuss other ways that Loyola can further its approach in being a green university — namely, where it chooses to put its money.

“We have money in this market,” said the environmental studies major. “If we want to stay a social justice university, we really need to take an indepth look to see where our money is at. Is it socially just?”

Though the faculty letter places emphasis on divestment, Hof said that over the last two years the student focus has shifted from withdrawing money from fossil fuel companies, to implementing socially responsible endowment policies. In other words, Loyola would take a closer look at exactly where it invests money and take advantage of shareholder advocacy, which gives Loyola the ability to convey to the companies it invests in what its ideals, values and areas of concern are.

Aaron Durnbaugh, Loyola’s director of sustainability, has been involved in researching socially just endowment practices and fossil fuel divestment since 2012. He said that Loyola was a gold-rated school in 2013, according to Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System. STARS rates schools based on a variety of categories related to how green the university is, from curriculum to overall energy use. Universities are rated bronze, silver, gold or platinum.

“There’s a whole section related to our endowment, and we did very poorly from a points perspective on that section,” he said. “We got three points out of seven on our investment.”

Dunbar addressed the ethical implications of investing in fossil fuel companies, and said that the way Loyola invests doesn’t always align with the school’s emphasis on social justice.

“The poorest people in the world are going to suffer the most [from our energy consumption] … But those who are causing the problem are going to suffer less than those who have no part in it,” Dunbar said. “It’s a basic issue of injustice.”

Until the senate meeting, Dunbar plans to continue collecting signatures, while Durnbaugh and others collect information that they plan to present to the senate before a decision is made.

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