Staff Editorial: USF’s Divestment from Social Justice

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We might be preaching to the choir here in reminding our readers and administration of the motto our university has adopted in hopes of inspiring its students Change the World from Here. But it seems that with the topic of fossil fuel divestment, it is our administration that needs reminding.

As the San Francisco State University and city of San Francisco begin liquefying their holdings in the fossil fuel industry, USF continues to resist altering their portfolio, disregarding the recent Fossil-Free USF petition that garnered over 200 signatures in favor of USF divesting from the fossil fuel industry.

According to the first official note Mr. Charlie Cross, USF’s CFO and Vice President of Business and Finance, sent to the campaign leaders, there are three major reasons as to why USF cannot divest: (1) There are illiquid holdings that USF cannot pull out of without incurring penalty. (2) Shareholder activism would be far more effective than divestment. And finally, (3) There are not enough fossil-free portfolios that USF can invest in.

When large institutions, such as ours, refuse to back-up large industries, a statement is made, even if the dent is not enough to make the industry stutter.

We, at the Foghorn, believe that the university cannot, in conscious, continue to support the fossil fuel industry without at least showing some acknowledgment of the impact our continued investment has on climate change and those on the front lines directly affected by it. Until our illiquid holding contracts run out, we can liquify our other assets and direct our attention to more friendly investments.

Trillium Asset Management Corp., “the oldest independent investment advisor devoted exclusively to sustainable and responsible investing” (as stated on their site), is currently aiding the city government with its divestment plans, and after being approached by Fossil-Free USF, has agreed to provide USF with options that they can invest in, fossil-free and guilt-free.

As students, we have provided numerous solutions and reasons to make divestment possible for the administration to seriously consider, and an imminent move is necessary as the environment continues to deteriorate under the effects of an industry that burns five times as much carbon as we can sustain.

The question of how effective divestment would be can be easily addressed. When large institutions, such as ours, refuse to back-up large industries, a statement is made, even if the dent is not enough to make the industry stutter. This fossil fuel divestment movement is modeled after the apartheid divestment campaign, for which South African President Nelson Mandela sincerely thanked UC Berkeley’s efforts. Divestment triggers a stigma — which has a far-reaching influence; it sends up a red flag to all investors and shareholders that they must change their practices or go out of business.

“We think that with the institutional power we hold, we can confront the most destructive industry in the world directly. We are in a certain privileged position as students at a university that claims social justice as a main part of their mission. [We are] standing in solidarity with front-line communities increasingly impacted by climate change and poisoned daily by the industry.” says Ashlyn Ruga ‘13, one of the spearheaders of the Fossil-Free USF campaign.

If the administration moves ahead with divestment, we would be the eighth university in the country to fully divest. USF highlights its efforts of composting and recycling, but with a crisis as urgent as this, and with our fellow global citizens being displaced daily, why are we standing by our investments while we stand by social justice?

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