Student senators agree on third version of Fossil Free SCU legislation
THE SANTA CLARA
May 19, 2016
The Associated Student Government passed its first ever investment resolution in support of student group Fossil Free SCU.
During their May 12 meeting, senators voted on a resolution that asks the administration to implement a new strategy for removing their investments in commingled funds containing fossil fuel extraction companies. More than a year after the first draft of the resolution was introduced, the final Tripartite Investment Strategy Resolution passed overwhelmingly in a vote of 20 to three.
“It gives us a lot more tangible of a strategy for proceeding forward because we’ve been kind of howling at the administration from this side for so long,” said Grass Roots Environmental Efforts Now (GREEN) Club president Sean Reilly. “I think this is a way that divestment at Santa Clara can progress forward with the student government.”
Within the resolution, ASG outlines three main requests for the Investment Office, the first of which is that the “university’s investment officers explicitly communicate with fund managers that the student body does not approve of investment in fossil fuel extraction companies.”
Neil Datar, the chair of the Facilities and Operations Committee said that this first point is asking university investment officers to communicate the sentiment of the student body to third party fund managers.
“We want to send a message to the administration that we as a student body do not believe that this is appropriate or in line with our values as a university,” said Eddie Kelinsky, an authoring senator on the resolution.
Datar added that even if the university does not agree with that statement, they still want the sentiment of the student body communicated to the fund managers who are including fossil fuels in the university’s investment portfolio.
According to Blair Libby, a FF SCU leader and the program coordinator for Santa Clara Community Action Plan’s BLEJIT, the first point was the focus of the debate among senators prior to the official vote.
The resolution goes into greater detail about a practice they are requesting the university implement called an “investor’s resolution.” This requires the university to contact other parties invested in the same commingled funds and ask for their support in a request to the fund managers that they remove fossil fuel extraction companies from specific portfolios.
Research done by the senators who worked on the resolution found that if more than 50 percent of the shareholders, based on the amount of money that they have invested, are in agreement that fossil fuel companies should not be included, the decision is binding for the fund manager and they must comply. Reilly said that this strategy eliminates the threat of financial loss, one of the main defenses the university has presented in their decision to remain invested in the commingled funds.
“This investor’s resolution idea is a really concrete way to make action (happen),” Libby added.
The second point of the resolution calls for the on campus Center for Sustainability to “include commingled fund investments in fossil fuel companies in its overall carbon footprint calculations.” Libby said that this calculation can be difficult to determine depending on what the university considers direct and indirect forms of how carbon is emitted.
The third and final point expresses support of the recently created Campus Sustainability Investment Fund and asks that the program be used “as a model for future reinvestment and climate neutrality efforts.” The fund, which has thus far allocated $250,000 for sustainability-focused student work, will showcase its second round of projects this quarter.
In late January, Kelinsky and senators Alex Perlman and Sammi Bennett opted to table a vote on a previous version of the resolution. After introducing it during a Senate meeting, the ensuing debate among senators revealed a lack of clarity surrounding the facts of the university’s investment holdings and the proposed requests for changes. At that same meeting, senate parliamentarian Jason Back suggested the creation of an ad hoc bipartisan fact finding committee that would do its own research on the divestment matter independent of FF SCU and the university. Kelinsky, Perlman, Bennett, Datar, Beck as well as Student Affairs Committee chair Austin Smith and senator Paul Armstrong served on the committee.
“(ASG senators) wanted a document (that) documented all of the interactions that students had with faculty regarding divestment,” Kelinsky said. He added that the committee spoke directly with Michael Hindery, former vice president of finance and administration, as well as FF SCU leaders Libby and Reilly.
Kelinsky and Datar said that the committee successfully gained some additional information from the university about their holdings, but received an answer they described as a “diplomatic no” in many instances. Kelinksy and Datar expressed their respect for Hindery, who was the key spokesperson for the university on all fossil fuel-related matters. His sudden and still ambiguous departure in mid-March could present a challenge in getting the administration to take immediate action on the resolution.
“I think it’s going to take a lot longer getting it implemented now because (Hindery’s former office) is in this kind of transitional phase,” Reilly said.
While the university continues to seek out and hire Hindery’s successor, Chris Shay, the assistant vice president for university operations, is currently serving as interim vice president for finance and administration. Shay said in an email that due to his newness to the issues regarding divestment and interactions with FF SCU, he was not yet ready to comment on the latest development.
Libby and Reilly, both graduating seniors, are hopeful that the resolution will make an impression on the administration. Reilly said that if this resolution is successful, it could set a larger precedent, signifying that the investor’s resolution is a tangible strategy for divestment from fossil fuels extraction companies.
“If the funds decided to divest, then this is… it’s so much bigger than Santa Clara divesting,” Reilly said. “The whole idea behind divestment is combining voices and one school alone doesn’t make change. But if we can get enough institutions, organizations and schools to all collectively say ‘we’re tired of this,’ then real change can start to happen.”
Below are links to the resolution passed by ASG and the document produced by the fact-finding committee:
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