Letter to the Editor: How UVM’s values align with divestment

Letter to the Editor

Letter to the Editor


Sophia Smith ’21

Chair, SGA Committee on the Environment

Member, Socially Responsible Investment Advisory Council

Undergraduate Representative, Budget and financing subcommittee of board of trustees

The push for divestment from fossil fuels has been an ongoing struggle with students and faculty trying to get the board of trustees to divest the endowment. In the fall of 2019, the students made another stab at divesting, gathering signatures and presenting public comment at the board’s meeting in October. 

The board responded that they needed to abide by their fiduciary responsibility and not take the risk of divesting in order to protect the endowment. 

This is the same comment they gave to the last push for divestment in 2015, but things have changed since 2015 and if their response wasn’t appropriate then, it certainly isn’t appropriate now given the climate of fossil fuel markets and the effects of climate change that are coming to light. 

This University’s core values reside in six different categories; respect, integrity, innovation, openness, justice, and responsibility.

Where is the integrity in supporting an industry that perpetuates environmental injustice and degradation through the use of student’s money in these industries? 

In the past, the fossil fuel industry has been a fairly safe investment promising profits in high returns in shares, but this is changing. Renewable energy is more abundant and cheaper than it ever was, making it a safer and less volatile industry to invest our money in. 

All finances and stock market reports aside, think of this in a broader lens. Fossil fuels are finite, meaning there are a limited amount available to us. Fossil fuels are proposed to run out in 2060

Renewables such as; wind, solar, and hydro-electric, are all forms of energy that are renewable and can provide the human population with an energy source for as long as we reside on earth. 

Why is it that we continue to put the long-term investments of this University in a short lived industry that is causing climate change, political unrest, and poor living conditions across the world, and of which in no way align with our core values of the University?

Is there justice in supporting an industry that promotes environmental injustice across the world through geopolitical unrest and the effects that climate change has on disadvantaged communities

Justice implies a fair trial and making decisions based on evidence and rational decision making. Fossil fuels are a dying industry and climate change is an imminent threat. 

Every year we decline to divest, we support this industry while putting our investments at risk and contributing to the worst global issue that we face as a human race.

We had the opportunity to be an innovative leader four years ago when the divestment movement was first proposed to the board in 2015, but now we are behind as 1,145 institutions and 11.54 trillion dollars have already been divested. 

We are behind and we will continue to fade into the background of this innovative opportunity unless our board of trustees takes a stand to align their investments with student, faculty, and University values.

The University asks for openness in communication through participation and collaboration, but these assets have been negated as the UVM community has pushed for divestment through petitions and proposals from all corners.

We have been brushed off with little to no constructive dialogue and the same invalid excuses.

And lastly, we come to responsibility, or fiduciary responsibility in the board’s terms. 

What is fiduciary responsibility? 

Simply defined it is the obligation that one party has in relationship with another one to act entirely on the other party’s behalf and best interest.

 In this case, the board of trustees’ obligation is to act in the best interest of the financial investments of the endowment in order to provide scholarships and other financial needs that are vital to the workings of the University. 

This is a hefty responsibility and the members of the board are professionals in their field who take this obligation very seriously. But not serious enough that they don’t realize that opting out of divestment will affect our retention rate and admission pool as prospective and current students understand that the University is not as green as it so heavily advertises. 

This year we were ranked #44 on Sierra Club’s Green School Ranking because we chose not to divest, which took points away from our STARS accreditation and ranked us much lower than universities across the nation. 

Opting out of the divestment movement will put our investments at risk, negatively affect the university’s image and retention rate, and continue to ignore every one of the University’s core values.


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