oil industry

Students at the University of Washington stood up against investing in fossil fuels companies.
Image: Shutterstock

University students have a reputation for standing up for “the issues.”  However, those tend to change over the years.  Recently, the environment has come into vogue.  It comes as no surprise that there are students jumping on board to “fight the good fight” to stop universities from investing in oil, coal and tar sands.

Is there more to it that?  These are more than just a few students here or there.  This is a movement that is gaining national attention, and universities are taking notice.

Students at the University of Washington held a rally at the University’s Board of Regents to draw attention to the issue.  They are concerned by the fact that the university has a portfolio of $2.3 billion and has stock or holds them through mutual funds in Exxon, Chevron and Conoco Phillips among others.

“The fossil fuel industry has been outspending environmentalists eight to one,” Kyle Murphy, a student in the environmental studies program, explains. “It’s no surprise things can’t get done in an environment like that.”

green energy

Students want to see fewer investments in fossil fuels and more in green energy.
Image: Shutterstock

He knows that there is a long way to go to convince universities to divest. “This movement is still growing, and if you compare it to South Africa and apartheid, that movement went on for seven or eight years on campuses before divestment occurred,” he says. “We’re well ahead of that.”

San Francisco State University, for one, has agreed to stop investing its endowment in coal and tar sands companies. The university’s foundation, which oversees a $51.2 million endowment, also voted in May to look into removing all future investments in fossil fuels companies. SFSU’s decision was announced as part of the national Fossil Free divestment campaign. Much of the progress has been linked to 350.org, Fossil Free’s parent group.

Not everyone agrees that divestment is the way to go, however.  Some feel that the universities will end up losing out on money that could go toward education and lower the cost of tuition.