UMass Students Push Divestment Rally, Demand School Restructure Asset Portfolio

(REUTERS/Yves Herman

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Chris White Tech Reporter
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Anti-fossil fuel activists at the University of Massachusetts (UMass) at Amherst are occupying a campus building in hopes of forcing the school to purge what they call “destructive and exploitative” fossil fuel assets.

UMass Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign, an environmental group hoping to pressure the school into selling off its oil assets, has been campaigning for divestment for five years.

The group took its campaign one step further Monday by occupying the Whitmore Administration Building, which houses the financial resources services department.

The University of Massachusetts Foundation manages about $770 million in fossil fuel assets — it sold off its direct coal assets in December.

The group demands the school commit to jettisoning its holdings from the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies by the end of Wednesday.

“The students protesting in Whitmore were respectful throughout the day. At 5 p.m., they peacefully left the building” after receiving news the university would convene a meeting discussing divestment, UMass Amherst spokesman Ed Blaguszewski told reporters.

UMass Board of Trustees Chairman Victor Woolridge and President Martin Meehan will talk about the issue in a conference call Tuesday.

“There are people on the board who support us,” Mica Reel, an UMass student who represents the group and majors in globalization and sexual inequality, told reporters Monday. “They’ll have no choice but to be accountable to what the people they represent want.”

Reel called the oil and coal industry “destructive and exploitative” and said the divested assets should be re-invested in local communities and the sustainable energy industry.

Reel and her group promise if the conference call yields no success, they’ll continue to “disrupt business as usual.”

The students also intend on pushing the school to establish a Socially Responsible Reinvestment Committee to implement a divestment and reinvestment plan that directs socially responsible holdings, according to a letter the Reel’s group sent to the trustees.

“For me, divestment is about much more than just an institutional change,” Reel said. “It’s about a shift in values. It’s a shift in basing our school’s investments in values and morals rather than just fiduciary duty and financial and economic gain.”

Moving forward with divestment may be a no-go for UMass, however, as divestment may hurt the school’s ability to govern its debts.

The cost for divesting fossil fuel assets is higher for schools with larger fossil fuel investments, according to research conducted by California Institute of Technology economics professor Bradford Cornell.

UMass has sunk nearly $770 million into its fossil fuel assets, a substantial amount for any major institution.

Columbia University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, New York University, Yale, and Harvard, for instance, stand to lose close to $200 million  in investment returns each year if they decide to divest. These schools have refrained from purging their assets.

“What we have learned about the small number of schools that have decided to divest is that they didn’t have much in the way of fossil fuel investments to begin with,” Matt Dempsey, a spokesman for DivestmentFacts, told The Daily Caller News Foundation in February.

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