At 10 a.m. Feb. 13, I got up in front of a crowd of about 40 Loyola students and faculty members. They were gathered outside the Institute of Environmental Sustainability (IES) to protest Loyola’s endowment investment policy.
Although I’m not a member of the group that organized the event, I felt moved to speak my mind. For the past few weeks, I’ve spent time researching the history of this movement and meeting with activists from the Student Environmental Alliance (SEA) who are keeping it alive today.
In 2013, Loyola’s then-Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Treasurer Eric Jones, revealed the school’s endowment had investments in at least three of the “Filthy 15” coal companies including, Duke Energy, Dominion Resources and Southern Company, according to a report by The Phoenix.
This sparked years of activity from concerned faculty members, administrators and student groups who sought to make Loyola divest these assets. In 2014, SEA got involved by launching the “Loyola Divestment and Reinvestment Campaign,” which calls for the school to dump its fossil fuel stocks and reinvest a portion of the money into a socially responsible enterprise.
At that time, SEA’s efforts were supported by faculty members who circulated a letter to Loyola’s administration calling for divestment and reinvestment. Their petition eventually garnered more than 200 faculty signatures. In 2015, the Student Government of Loyola Chicago’s Senate passed legislation calling for divestment as well.
Since 1988 — when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established — the world has known that climate change poses an existential threat to humanity, according to the IPCC website.
The IPCC recognizes the emission of greenhouse gasses from oil and gas corporations as contributing factors to climate change.
Yet, neither the imminent danger posed by climate change nor the energy and efforts of environmental activists convinced Loyola to change its policy. Instead the Board of Trustees, which controls Loyola’s endowment, largely rebuffed the calls of this coalition.
As late as 2016, Loyola’s former chief investment officer confirmed the school had about 2 percent of its endowment invested in fossil fuels, according to a report by The Phoenix. In real numbers, this means Loyola had about $12 million dollars invested in fossil fuels four years ago.
Earlier this month, Loyola’s CIO Kathrine Wyatt, confirmed by email that the university still held long-term investments in the fossil fuel industry. In an email exchange made available to The Phoenix by Shriya Patel — a co-president of SEA — Wyatt said the bulk of these funds are in long-term holdings. Wyatt didn’t respond to The Phoenix’s requests for comment.
With Loyola’s 150th Anniversary celebration looming and an IES-hosted Climate Change Conference coming up March 12-13, there’s no better time for the administration to confront this issue than right now.
The school likes to market its reputation as an environmental leader in the Midwest, to bring in students and gain good press coverage. On its website, it has numerous infographics and articles about Loyola’s commitment to the environment. Yet how can anyone take this claim seriously when the university is undermining its own strategic plan and investment policy in order to profit off an industry that’s actively destroying the planet and endangering our future?
Not only is divestment good for the environment, it’s also good publicity. If the school were to divest these assets, its decision will undoubtedly be supported by students, faculty members and alumni who have been working to see this policy change for a long time.
It’s also important to keep in mind that if Loyola were to divest, they wouldn’t be alone. According to Common Dreams — a non-profit progressive news website — since the beginning of the modern environmental movement in the late 1960s, more than $11 trillion in assets have been divested by more than 1,000 institutions worldwide.
Less than a month ago, the president of Georgetown University, another prominent Jesuit school, announced they would be divesting all of their assets in the fossil fuel industry by 2024.
Divestment could also prove to be a financially prudent move for Loyola. In an article published in January 2019 by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, they wrote, “the 12 largest publicly traded U.S. coal producers lost 16.6 percent of their total market value since September 2018.” If this trend continues, eventually these investments will be worthless. But at this stage financial considerations shouldn’t be our main concern.
According to the 2018 UN Climate Change Annual Report, the 2020s will be the most crucial decade for the climate in history. If we don’t pull out all the stops to avert a climate catastrophe then the consequences of climate change may soon be irreversible.
As an institution of higher learning and as a body which has pledged to address “These issues, especially climate change (and), environmental degradation” Loyola must act. As a Jesuit university, Loyola has a duty to do all it can to prevent a climate change disaster. To a school worth more than $2 billion, a few million won’t break the bank.