The University of Vermont's Independent Voice Since 1883

The Vermont Cynic

The University of Vermont's Independent Voice Since 1883

The Vermont Cynic

The University of Vermont's Independent Voice Since 1883

The Vermont Cynic

Students rally for UVM investment transparency

Annalisa Madonia
Students delivered copies of the transparency letter to several administrative offices in the Waterman building Apr 12.

Students gathered on the first floor of the Davis Center Friday, April 12 at 11:50 a.m. to demand the University make its investment records fully available to the public.

The UVM Union of Students announced plans for the rally in an Instagram post Wednesday, April 10, stating, “Since 2011, the UVM Board of Trustees has hidden their vast investment portfolio from the public eye. We believe that the public has a right to know where UVM is putting its money.”

That same Wednesday, the UVM Union of Students released an open letter calling for the University to release their investment records. Nearly 20 UVM clubs and campus organizations signed on to the letter. UVM’s investments, which total over $800 million, are not available to the public, according to the letter.

The students delivered copies of the letter to several administrative offices within the Waterman building, including those of UVM President Suresh Garimella, Richard Cate, vice president for finance and administration and Endowment Accountant Marie Tiemann, a student organizer said.  

“We have created this letter as a last resort as UVM has chosen to block progress and transparency. We’ve attempted to research this information from the proper channels and have been shut down,” an anonymous student organizer told the crowd at the protest. 

Students are calling for full transparency of companies that UVM is investing in, another anonymous organizer said. 

“What we’re hoping to see is a pretty regularly updated list of companies that UVM chooses to invest its money in,” they said.

Students attempting to access investment records were informed by administrators that the University is not legally required to make its investments available to the public under 1 V.S.A. § 313 (a)(6), the open letter stated. 

1 V.S.A. § 313 (a)(6) provides that public bodies can hold executive sessions to consider records exempt from public record access.

“The lack of a legal obligation does not absolve UVM of a moral obligation to be transparent with its students and donors as a public institution,” the open letter stated.

After nearly a decade of student protests for climate divestment, the Board of Trustees voted to divest from fossil fuels in 2020, according to a July 14, 2020 Cynic article

Financial administrators stated that the University is adhering to its fossil fuel divestment plan.

UVM has exited all direct investments in fossil fuels and a private equity investment linked to fossil fuels ahead of schedule, stated Monica Delisa, president and CEO of the University of Vermont Foundation, in an April 16 email to the Cynic.

“All other actions associated with the Board of Trustees resolution on fossil fuel divestment are on track,” Delisa stated. 

In an email to the Cynic, Tiemann stated that donors’ requests factor into endowment decision making.  

“Endowment funds are invested, and the income generated from the funds are spent according to the donors’ request. When the University receives funds from a donor, we enter into a contractual agreement with the donor on how they request the funds to be spent,” she stated. “I can assure you that the Investment Company follows the Investment Policy and the Board of Trustees directive.”

Students and staff gathered to watch the rally, some looking down from the upper floors. 

Standing on a table in front of the crowd, an organizer said, “We demand to know where this money is. We demand to know what this university has spent our money on. We demand to know if the University has met its divestment goals. At this present moment we truly have no idea.” 

At the protest, students shared their frustrations with accessibility of information regarding the University’s investments.

“I’ve been kind of upset with the University for a long time with how they manage their money,” an anonymous student said. “They’re not transparent with unions and bargaining processes. They’re not transparent with student movements, data requests, divestment from fossil fuels, or the firearms industry or any harmful industries.” 

This lack of transparency enables the University to hamper student organizing, he said. 

“It leaves students completely in the dark about whether or not UVM is making good on their promises to divest from fossil fuels, and it doesn’t give them any insight into any other harmful industries that they may be invested in,” the student said.

Adam White, executive director of University communications, couldn’t be reached for comment.

The full letter can be viewed here

Disclaimer: The Vermont Cynic is a signatory on the open letter mentioned in this article. The Editorial Board wrote a staff editorial on the Cynic’s decision. The writer of this piece was not involved in the writing of the staff editorial and members of the Editorial Board were not involved in the reporting of this piece.

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About the Contributor
Annalisa Madonia
Annalisa Madonia, Co-Photo Editor
(She/her)  Annalisa Madonia is a sophomore majoring in public communication with minors in food systems, applied design and nutrition and food sciences. She joined the Cynic as a staff photographer before taking on the role of photo editor. In her free time, she loves to combine her passion for baking and photography with food photography. Email [email protected] to get in contact with Annalisa.