On December 1st, the Stevens Point divestment campaign had its first meeting with Chancellor Bernie Patterson to discuss the universities transition to clean energy.
Divestment is a technique that was first used in South Africa during apartheid. When institutions investment portfolios are tied up amongst oppressive or destructive companies, they indirectly support the problem.
It started when students at universities across California demanded their schools take all endowments and investments and remove them from stocks that had a role in apartheid of any kind.
This sparked a nationwide campaign of removing money from those stocks, and today a new kind of divestment is taking place from fossil fuels.
Given Stevens Point environmental track record, it is unsurprising to see passionate and devoted students pursuing this new form of divestment. With their newfound opportunity to meet with the Chancellor, the campus divestment team took no shortcuts.
“They spent literally hundreds of hours on this presentation,” said Treasurer Sean Piette. “Compiling statistics, exploring all the options, they thought of everything.”
Piette and others waited outside the Chancellors office to show support for their peers in the meeting, which lasted a little over half an hour.
Following the meeting, the entire group met in the basement of the Dreyfus University Center to debrief.
While optimistic about the prospects of divestment, the Chancellor recognized the limitations of the situation. Because the University of Wisconsin system funds are centralized, one school cannot simply ‘divest’.
“For divestment, two funds need to be in place in the UW-Foundation,” said a group administrator, and one of the presenters, Joel Gebhard. “Once these are in place, your school can decide which fund to put their money in.”
Another challenge to divestment is the viability. Before a school will commit, it must be confident that its new investments will pay off. “The endowment pays for scholarships, and that’s why they need the second fund,” said Gebhard “no administrator wants to be the reason a student does not get financial aid”
While creating a duality in the UW-Foundation is a daunting task, the divestment group is already taking the first steps towards doing so.
“We will go to SGA and the faculty senate and see if they are in favor of the fund,” said group president Natalie Lirette “With their support, the Chancellor would feel comfortable writing a letter.”
With 22 million dollars of endowment, there is a fantastic opportunity to make a difference. If a second fund is created within the UW-system, and green portfolios proven to be economically feasible, divestment becomes much simpler.