University of Utah considering plan to divest fossil fuel holdings

University of Utah

(Tanner Siegworth, KSL TV, File)



Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — The University of Utah is considering a plan to divest its holdings in the fossil fuel industry and reinvest in renewable energy.

A committee of the school's Academic Senate released a preliminary report last week that calls for the U. to sell public equity assets from major carbon emitters within the next year, then sell assets from all companies involved in the production and refining of fossil fuels within 10 years. The committee also recommends the university "reinvest the proceeds from divestment sales in sustainable investments" and "retain investment fund managers who will advocate for sustainable practices," according to a news release from the U.

The Academic Senate will consider the committee's recommendations on April 26 after a town hall meeting on April 12, during which the school will hear public comment on the change.

"We wanted to start with a preliminary draft so that we could continue to gather feedback from all perspectives at the U on this topic, rather than defending a position," said Allyson Mower, chair of the Academic Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Divestment and Strategic Reinvestment Investigations, in the release. "Our shared governance culture at the U means the Academic Senate, the administration and the Board of Trustees all participate together in making decisions about the future of this institution. We all hold a stake in it and want it to succeed."

The committee was formed in summer 2020 and has been considering divestment for eight months, the release says, after the school decided not to move forward with divestment previously in 2016.

Because of the complexity of its endowment — a portfolio worth more than $1 billion invested in stocks, private equity, hedged equity and bonds — it's "difficult to calculate" how much the U. is currently invested in fossil fuels. "It's also difficult to determine precisely all the companies that fall within the fossil fuel industry," the release says. "But, with those caveats, the committee estimates 6-9% of the pool could be considered fossil fuel investments."

According to activist group Fossil Free, many American colleges and universities have already committed to full divestment from fossil fuels, including Brown, Cornell, Georgetown, Creighton and the universities of California, Dayton, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Vermont and Southern California.

Activists believe that widespread divestment from fossil fuel companies will pressure the industry to change and restrict its access to capital; they ultimately hope to slow the effects of climate change. Others like Bill Gates, though, argue the gesture is entirely symbolic and ineffective at creating change.

"The ad hoc committee has worked diligently on this preliminary draft and we hope the U community will digest it, share their opinions with us and have a say on the future of the U," Mower said. The university is accepting public comments on the changes online or at the April 12 virtual town hall.

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