Faculty publish letter on fossil fuel divestment

Officially addressing the UW’s Board of Governors and President Feridun Hamdullahpur, 64 faculty members came together Feb. 1 to sign and publish a letter to the university to urge the board to further investigate divesting from fossil fuels. 

If the university were to follow through and divest, the Board of Governors would agree to no longer hold stocks in fossil fuel companies.

“We, as faculty members of the University of Waterloo, urge you to assess the financial risks posed by climate change to the University of Waterloo’s endowment and pension plans, disclose the extent of the university’s investment in fossil fuels, commit to no new investment in fossil fuels, and develop a strategy to divest the university from existing holdings in the fossil fuel industry,” the letter said. 

This is not the first time the board has heard calls to divest. Last November during a general meeting, Waterloo Environment Studies Endowment Fund (WESEF) approved a proposal by students asking to divest from 200 fossil fuel companies. While WESEF and students may advocate for divestment, the motion does not have any authority over the university. 

“It’s purely symbolic,” said PhD candidate Yonatan Strauch from Fossil Free UW.

For Prof. Olaf Weber, the director of the master’s program in sustainability management, the letter is meant to let the university know that faculty are available for consultation and assistance.  

“I think it’s more like an offer that says we are interested, we are concerned, and we would like to discuss, and [we would] like to help,” Weber said.

In the letter, faculty urged the board to support the recommendations put forth by students. 

“I think [the letter] brings another angle and legitimacy to it. Maybe there’s sort of the perception that or expectation of, you know, of course students, some students, especially in the faculty of environment, would be calling for something like this,” Strauch said. “But to have faculty from across the university calling for something like this puts the weight of their merit basis behind it.”

While there isn’t much students and WESEF can do to hold the administration accountable, Strauch is hoping that in light of the letter, the university will consider creating a specific body to research and investigate whether divestment is viable. A committee already exists at the University of Toronto, which after a year of consideration, chose to divest. 

Looking forward, Strauch was told that the board’s finance and investment committee will be hosting a confidential meeting to discuss whether divestment is a feasible option for UW. 

On behalf of the university, Nick Manning, UW&rsquo;s director of media relations and issues management, wrote to <em>Imprint</em> that the university &ldquo;is aware of the issues raised and we will be discussing these matters in the coming weeks through appropriate board committees and structures.&rdquo;

Since Oct. 2015, UW began including environmental, social and governance (ESG) rhetoric into discussions regarding both the pension fund and endowment fund.&nbsp;

&ldquo;Discussions have begun with a view to creating a working group to review and recommend to the Board of Governors how ESG factors might be taken into account when making investment decisions for the pension and endowment funds. We anticipate constructive conversation with community members on this matter,&rdquo; Manning said.&nbsp;


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