By Madison Friend, Brendan Pauley
The Board of Directors of the UMass Foundation voted unanimously last week to divest all direct holdings in fossil fuel companies in response to pressure from the UMass Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign, making UMass one of the first public colleges to do so.
“This [divestment] is consistent with the principles that have guided our university since its Land Grant inception and reflects our commitment to take on the environmental challenges that confront us all,” said UMass President Marty Meehan in a statement released by the University.
Meehan’s announcement comes only weeks after WSU President Barry Maloney penned an open letter in response to the WSU campaign reaffirming its administration’s decision not to divest its financial holdings in the fossil fuel industry.
“The Worcester State Foundation’s purpose is to prudently invest funds in order to further our academic mission,” read the letter. “It is our obligation to support as many students as possible via a healthy rate of return, and therefore we must weigh calls to divest for any reason against a potential negative impact on that rate of return.”
But WSUDivest, a joint effort by students and faculty at Worcester State University, think the benefits of divestment far outweigh any potential negatives. Allison Dunn, a WSU professor that teaches about climate change and is involved in the WSUDivest campaign, speculates that UMass’ announcement might make WSU reconsider.
“I sincerely hope that WSU uses this momentum to take a leadership stand among the state universities and become the first to fully divest,” said Dunn. “As a university that purports to care about environmental sustainability and stewardship, this would be a natural action to take.”
The Office of the President at WSU had no new comment on the matter, deferring to previous statements that argue divesting could be seen as a political action which might endanger the non-profit status of the Worcester State Foundation, the endowment that handles the University’s investments.
Publicly, WSU isn’t shy about its commitment to environmentally-friendly policies and construction. In fact, WSU was recognized as a Most Environmentally Responsible College by the Princeton Review in 2010, 2011, 2014, and 2015. Despite this recognition and the existence of a Sustainability Office on campus, Ashley Seymour, student head of the divestment campaign at WSU, believes the University’s commitment to environmental causes is superficial at best.
“Worcester State University presents itself as a ‘green campus’ but is only green on the outside,” said Seymour. “When it comes down to it, they are not putting their money where their mouth is because they invest in fossil fuel industries.”
WSU’s Sustainability Officer, Steven Bandarra, also declined to comment on the issue.
WSUDivest has employed several strategies to raise awareness of the threats posed by fossil fuel consumption, including petition, sit-ins outside Board of Trustees meetings and in-class presentations.
“WSU’s motto is ‘change the way the world works’,” said Seymour. “It is the goal of the students to do exactly that, and we need to start by persuading WSU to divest from fossil fuels.”