By Greg Myers
The OSU Foundation has declared that it will not divest its holdings in fossil fuels, claiming that it would negatively impact the foundation’s ability to support the university financially. The news has to be seen as a significant blow to the efforts of those pushing for OSU to get out of what they consider dirty money.
Around six percent of the foundation’s $670 million in assets will remain invested in companies connected to the development or distribution of fossil fuels. As is often the case when dealing with significant amounts of money, short-term financial interests trump long-term environmental concerns.
Ruth A. Beyer, chair of the board of trustees for the OSU Foundation, wrote a letter to the OSU community explaining the reasons behind the rejection. In her letter, Beyer defends the foundation’s decision by explaining that “categorically removing this sector would violate prudent investing rules.” Furthermore, Beyer states that the foundation would not be able to meet its “legal obligation to show that divestment would not negatively impact our capacity to support the university financially.” She also points out that OSU is already “a university deeply involved in the goals of controlling carbon output, developing alternative sources of energy, and training skilled and thoughtful leaders.”
But if OSU is serious about its involvement in reducing carbon output, why invest millions in the companies most responsible for producing it? This is the question asked by a group of environmentally conscious students, faculty, and staff known as OSU Divest.
Deeply concerned about the university’s role in anthropogenic climate change, OSU Divest made it their mission to “convince, urge, or force the OSU Foundation to divest its holdings in fossil fuel companies and replace these with investments in socially responsible stock holdings.” After over a year of fighting, the group was ultimately unable to convince the OSU Foundation that divestment could be financially advantageous. As a fiduciary for financial donations to the university, return on investment is the foundation’s primary concern.
Financial matters were not the only reason given for the foundation’s rejection, however. Beyer writes that the foundation was “not convinced that the divestment strategy will produce tangible benefits,” claiming that even “OSU Divest acknowledged that it would be more symbolic than substantive.”
Professor Kenneth Winograd, a spokesperson for OSU Divest, states that ”OSU divesting would have an electric effect nationally, reinforcing our brand as an environmental university.” Aside from being the morally righteous thing to do, Winograd says that OSU divesting would “help accelerate the synergy of faith groups and universities who are divesting around the world” and “change the public’s awareness about the crisis.”
In spite of OSU Divest’s efforts, it seems that the OSU Foundation’s holdings in fossil fuels will stay secure for as long as they remain profitable. The foundation will not rule out divestment in the future, however, as they assure the campus community that they will monitor the issue as the debate continues. In the meantime, OSU Divest will continue its efforts to shift public perception of the foundation’s investments and the university’s direction on the environment.
For more information on the OSU Divest movement, go to http://350corvallis.org/actions/divestment/.