by Will Lewis
On Oct. 29 the VSU Foundation’s Board of Trustees denied a request from the Students Against the Violation of the Environment to stop all investment in oil, gas and coal companies.
“Compliance with your well-intentioned request is impractical for a number of reasons and perhaps even a breach of the fiduciary responsibility that all of our trustees take very seriously,” the refusal read.
The refusal was penned by Wayne Edwards, chairman of the Foundation Board of Trustees. Edwards refused to comment for this article.
John Crawford, CEO of the VSU foundation, said, “to limit our fund managers in any way at all from making investments in a variety of different funds limits options, and when you limit options that naturally would limit the ability to maximize returns.”
Danielle Jordan, senior anthropology major and president of SAVE, said, “There’s a lot of disappointment but we are not going to stop, we don’t see this as the end of our campaign. It lets us know where we stand with the Board of Trustees.”
The VSU Foundation’s Investment Objectives in the Investment Policy and Guidelines states that “Foundation funds should be invested to produce maximum total return consistent with prudent risk limits.”
Dr. Michael Noll, professor of geosciences, disagrees with the idea that fiduciary and environmental responsibilities are mutually exclusive.
“A recently published article by Forbes Magazine and indices like the S&P 500 show that companies like Publix are doing better than Wal-Mart, and that the solar industry creates better returns than the coal industry, a simple fact that was also recently pointed out by my colleague Dr. Matthew Richards,” Noll said.
The refusal comes on the heels of the proposal that was sent in to the Foundation by SAVE.
The proposal cited a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a UN sponsored working group charged with studying the effects and causes of climate change.
“We are asking that VSU immediately freeze any new investments in the fossil fuel industry and commit to a plan to divest all of its holding in fossil fuels within five years,” the SAVE request read.
The request also cited a statistic presented in the IPCC report that states with “95 percent certainty that humans are the primary cause of the issue.”
Edwards responded to the statistic in the Board’s refusal by delegitimizing the credibility of the IPCC.
“In the interest of intellectual honesty, I suggest you read some critiques of the UN report you cite in your letter,” Edwards wrote. “You’ll have no trouble finding them.”
The statement triggered controversy between the Foundation and several professors around campus.
“They made the decision very hastily, without directly interviewing the students who made this request,” Dr. Bradley Bergstrom, biology professor, said. “That, alone, suggests they did not take the request seriously, and the unfortunate decision by the Board chairman to insult the students’ efforts with a sarcastic letter belies the personal bias of the letter writer and shows his contempt for their genuine concerns, which happen to be shared by many of the faculty at VSU.”
“The response by VSU’s Board of Trustees (BOT) to SAVE’s divestment campaign is mindboggling,” Noll said. “It suggests the board believes it knows more about global climate change than climatologists do, who have studied this phenomenon for decades.”
Jordan said SAVE will host a panel discussion Nov. 12 about climate change and the divestment strategy.
The panel will be held in the Powell Hall Auditorium.
The VSU Foundation operates independently of the University.
The Foundation Board of Trustees invests its endowment, which is around $23 million in mutual funds that are in turn managed by Ladenburg Thalmann, a financial services group headquartered in Miami.