Trinity considers divestment strategy for endowment

PETE PRENDERGAST ’16

MANAGING EDITOR

Arleigha Cook ’16 would like to see a change in the way that Trinity invests its endowment.

The idea is called divestment, and it entails an individual or institution refusing to invest in companies or economic sectors that promote destructive or morally dubious behavior or products. In Cook’s words, “Divestment is the opposite of investment… When you divest, you take money out.” Cook hopes to see Trinity invest its money in a more socially conscious way, by divesting Trinity’s endowment from fossil fuels: “Now, we’re in a time where we can divest from fossil fuels and put that money in renewables.”

This is not the first time Trinity students pursued a divestment-based campaign.  In 2007, a group of Trinity students participated in a national campaign that sought to have TIAA-CREF, one of the nation’s biggest private pension funds, pull its investments out of companies that did business in Sudan, a nation plagued with state-sponsored genocide.

Today, several schools across the country have either begun discussing or implementing divestment campaigns similar to Cook’s.  In 2012, NESCAC counterpart Middlebury College began a formal process to discuss the possibilities of implementing a divestment campaign.  While Middlebury has not yet successfully divested its endowment from fossil fuels, they have taken many positive steps, including rallying student support for the cause and opening a productive dialogue with the school’s board of trustees.

According to fossilfree.org, divestments made by colleges and universities make up 9% of an estimated $2.6 trillion divested funds.  The University of California, for example, recently divested $200 million of its endowment from fossil fuels.

Cook hopes to begin the campaign by rallying more students to join the cause.  She recently presented her ideas for the campaign to the Student Government Association (SGA). While most of SGA and the student body agree with the idea of making Trinity more socially conscious with its investment strategy, the current financial climate of the school’s endowment might highlight some problems for the campaign.

“Divestment is when you get rid of your exposure to certain markets,” explained SGA president Max Le Merle ’16. “The problem is that it really hurts your financial return. Everyone, including myself, agrees with the principle behind the campaign, but the school is losing money because we took a smaller freshman class this year, and that was intentional.  But because of this revenue loss, we need to have the best possible return on our investments and because of that, divestment can hurt even more.”

Another point to consider is the fact that simply pulling funding out of big oil companies is not necessarily the best path to promote clean and renewable energies.  For example, one of Europe’s biggest oil companies, Total, has already begun to spend billions of dollars on the future of solar energy.

Le Merle further explained that many companies that hope to become more socially and environmentally conscious are turning towards an investment strategy called “impact investing,” rather than divesting.  “With impact investing, the goal is to generate financial return and social impact at the same time,” Le Merle explained. “You look at an actual company itself and search press conferences, news articles and social media to determine if a company is socially conscious or not.”

The SGA is excited about this new dialougue, “one of the main goals of SGA this year it to strengthen avenues for student outreach,” said SGA Finance Chair Shannon Burke ’16. “It’s still early in the year, but SGA is working to find a way to make students like Arleigha feel that [SGA] is a tangible place to voice your concerns.”

Looking forward, Cook has a vison for the future.  “One year from now ideally we’d be in talks with trustees and have this be an ongoing campus discussion,” said Cook.  “We can always be looking for ways to be more environmentally friendly to preserve the place we live in.  We only have one planet after all.”

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