Students urge UVM to divest funds from fossil fuels

Published: Oct. 26, 2019 at 6:50 PM EDT
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University of Vermont students are demanding the Board of Trustees stop investing in fossil fuel companies.

On Saturday morning, students from Organize UVM and UVM Progressives confronted the board at their meeting. Three students spoke to trustees directly. They urged them to divest all of the university’s funds given to fossil fuel companies and invest in renewable energy.

Chris Harrell of Organize UVM urged trustees to divest and live up to the university’s ‘green’ reputation.

“If you come here for a tour, one of the first things they’re going to show you is the lead certification on all of their buildings,” he said. “They’re allowed to profit off of that green-washed image that they’re creating but not follow suit in their actions.”

Richard Cate, the Vice President of Finance and Treasury, thinks the school has been proactive in fighting climate change but he says there’s a difference of opinion on this particular issue.

“The Board of Trustees is responsible for the endowment. As fiduciaries, they feel they need to keep their options open in terms of all investments so it’s really not so much an issue directly with fossil fuels as it is in regard to flexibility and how they move money depending on where the market’s going so they can get the best return so they can have the most money for the students,” Cate said.

Cate also told WCAX News only 5% of the university’s $538 million endowment is currently invested in fossil fuels.

“The endowment has some fossil fuels in it but there’s about $200 million in cash invested that invest on behalf of the university in much shorter term investments and none of that is fossil fuels. That’s all green,” he said.

To those who showed up to protest, 5% is too much.

And according to UVM alumnus in the crowd, including Burlington City Councilor Jack Hanson, this effort to push the Board toward divestment has been going on for almost a decade.

“It’s been seven years now and I haven’t seen them move so again, I’ve just heard excuses and reasons why it’s too hard, reasons why it doesn’t make sense,” he said. “I want to start hearing solutions. How are we going to get this done? Commitments, plans, timelines, goals, action.”

Students vowed to continue putting pressure on trustees until they see action on divestment.

“The Board is going to recognize the significance of our mobilization and you can see by how many people showed up here today, how energized the student body is by this. And I think if they’re smart, they’ll take that into their consideration for their actions going forward,” Harrell said. “The student body is motivated by this issue. We’re mobilized. We’re dedicated and we’re going to go away until you take the action that you need to ensure us our future.”

Cate said the Board will not make an immediate decision on divestment but they’re willing to keep listening to students and their concerns.

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