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UMass Becomes First Major Public University to Divest from Direct Fossil Fuel Holdings


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UMass Becomes First Major Public University to Divest from Direct Fossil Fuel Holdings published by Mooba
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Posted on 2016-05-26
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The University of Massachusetts today became the first major public university to divest its endowment from direct holdings in fossil fuels. The decision was made by a unanimous vote of the Board of Directors of the UMass Foundation, a separate not-for-profit corporation that oversees an endowment whose value was $770 million at the end of the last fiscal year.

The decision followed a series of developments that signaled the University community’s desire to fight climate change. Last year, the Foundation voted to divest from direct holdings in coal companies in response to a petition from the UMass Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign, a student group. The UMass Board of Trustees later endorsed the Foundation’s decision and described climate change as “a serious threat to the planet.” Last month, the Campaign staged a series of demonstrations at UMass Amherst to call for divestment from all fossil fuels.

“This action is consistent with the principals that have guided our university since its Land Grant inception and reflects our commitment to take on the environmental challenges that confront us all,” said UMass President Marty Meehan. “Important societal change often begins on college campuses and it often begins with students. I’m proud of the students and the entire University community for putting UMass at the forefront of a vital movement, one that has been important to me throughout my professional life.”

During last month’s protest at UMass Amherst, Meehan met with two representatives of the UMass Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign, Sarah Jacqz and Kristie Herman. After that meeting, he said he was prepared to recommend that UMass build on its coal divestment by removing from its endowment direct investments in fossil fuel companies and making additional investments in clean/sustainable energy.

To accomplish the latter, Meehan also announced today that he planned to tap the President’s Science and Technology Initiative Fund, which last year provided more than $900,000 in grants to UMass faculty researchers, to ensure future funding for sustainability/green technology projects. He said that UMass is also set to boost its academic and financial involvement in offshore wind energy.

“The Foundation’s action today makes a powerful statement about UMass’s commitment to combatting climate change and protecting our environment,” said UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy. “It also speaks volumes about our students’ passionate commitment to social justice and the environment. It is largely due to their advocacy that that this important issue has received the attention that it deserves.”

UMass Board of Trustees Chairman Victor Woolridge said he would ask the Board to endorse the Foundation’s decision when it meets on June 15.

“With this vote, the UMass Foundation adopts a divestment position that is among the most aggressive established for any major university—public or private—in the United States,” said Woolridge. “We do so, in part, because members of the UMass community have urged us to consider divestment in moral terms. Since we acknowledge the moral imperative, we are willing to go beyond last year’s action and take this additional step, but we’re also mindful of our moral and fiduciary obligation to safeguard the University’s endowment, which provides critical funding for faculty research and student scholarships, and must be protected against losses. We believe this conclusive action balances those two priorities.”

“Divesting from investments in any particular sector is not done lightly and we have done so rarely,” said Foundation Treasurer and Investment Committee Chairman Edward H. D’Alelio. “The Foundation’s primary responsibility is a fiduciary one. Its primary mission is overseeing the endowment in an effort to maximize returns on funds donated for research, academic programs, financial aid and other purposes. That we took this step reflects not just our comfort as fiduciaries but the seriousness with which we see climate change.”



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