The University of Utah’s academic senate decided Monday to jettison its oil and fossil fuel assets and created a committee to help it weed through investments that comport sustainability and social justice considerations.
Along with its 44 to 40 decision in favor of divestment, the academic senate also created a permanent Socially Responsible and Environmentally Sustainable Investment Advisory Committee, ostensibly helping the school determine what investments comport sustainability and social justice considerations.
“Continued investment in the fossil fuel industry is risky business and incongruent with climate science and incongruent with the University’s education, sustainability and leadership values,” the resolution states. “Divestment is our moral, ethical and fiduciary responsibility.”
The resolution etches out cavernous caveats to the divestment policy – namely, it will not cut any scholarships and research money coming from the oil industry, nor will it ban charitable donations from oil companies insofar as they are willing to donate to a school refusing to hold their assets.
In order to pay reparations for supposedly contributing to climate change and hiding its effects, the resolution also welcomes oil companies and the fossil fuel industry to shovel more money into the university’s sustainability research and student scholarships.
“We have no right to invest in the destruction of the climate our students will inherit,” the resolution concluded.
The group’s president, Bill Johnson, publicly opposed fossil fuel divestment prior to the vote, calling it a “divisive political gesture” accomplishing nothing.
“There are good arguments on both sides of the issue,” Johnson told reporters. “If there is so much good we could do without making this political statement, why should we? Why don’t we focus on working to reduce carbon emissions?”
The university has $2 billion in investments and a $700 million endowment. It has nearly $42 million, or 7 percent, of its endowment sunk in oil assets and other fossil fuels, according to a report released in 2015 by the school’s investment responsibility committee.
“We appreciate the thoughtful work of the Academic Senate today-and over many months-on the subject of endowment investments,” reads a press statement from John Nixon, the university’s financial officer. “The investment portfolio of the University comes largely from donors who wish to support scholarships, faculty salaries and research, and other programmatic activities.”
Nixon goes on to note that the university will review the resolutions and work with the academic senate to determine what is best for the institution.
Oil and other petroleum products contributed more than 90 percent of Utah’s overall energy production in 2014 — coal made up about 76 percent of the state’s energy needs, while natural gas filled in nearly 20 percent, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
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