Seattle University plans fossil fuel divestment: Will other Jesuit schools follow its lead?

Image: iStock

Student activists notched a major victory when Seattle University President Stephen V. Sundborg, S.J., announced that the university would divest its endowment of investments related to companies holding fossil fuel reserves, becoming the first Jesuit university in the nation to do so. According to the statement, the process will begin in 2018 and conclude by 2023. Will other Jesuit colleges and universities follow suit?

Seattle University’s announcement, released on Sept. 19, noted the moral imperative underlining the movement. “As a Jesuit and Catholic university we have a special obligation to address the unfolding climate change crisis,” Father Sundborg said. “In his encyclical ‘Laudato Si,’ or ‘Care for Our Common Home,’ Pope Francis calls us to view this as a social and ecological issue of grave urgency that is connected to all around us and that has especially devastating consequences for society’s most vulnerable.”

Advertisement

Deanna Howes Spiro, the director of communications at the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, in Washington, D.C., said the A.J.C.U. included the Seattle University announcement in its newsletter. “We congratulate Seattle University on finding the means to do this,” she said, adding that the A.J.C.U. would not take a position on the policy.

The fossil fuel divestment movement, which started in the 2000s, has become a mainstay of activism on college campuses.

The fossil fuel divestment movement, which started in the 2000s, has become a mainstay of activism on college campuses. Many student-led groups sponsor online petitions, education efforts and meet with administration officials, nudging some in leadership roles to change course. While Seattle University is the first of the 28 Jesuit colleges and universities to commit itself to complete divestment of fossil fuel holdings, other institutions have modified their investment practices.

In June 2015, Georgetown University divested from coal companies but not all fossil fuels. The student organization G.U. Fossil Free has continued to push for bolder action, but victories since 2015 have been more incremental than sweeping. In June 2018, the Georgetown board of directors voted to divest from companies associated with tar sands oil extraction, after G.U. Fossil Free released a proposal in November 2017 urging the university to take that step.

Matt Hill, Georgetown’s media relations manager, declined to comment on whether or not the university would reconsider its divestment policy in light of Seattle University’s announcement.

At Santa Clara University, members of the Santa Clara Community Action Program have been advocating for fossil fuel divestment for years. Kimy Grandi Soriano, the current coordinator of S.C.C.A.P.’s empowerment branch, told America that she has been disappointed by the lack of productive dialogue between students and the administration. “The university’s stance was basically, ‘Well, good for them, but that’s not us’.... They maintained that the reason they are able to give so much in financial aid is directly related to [its investments], basically creating the narrative of ‘pick one or the other: divestment or scholarships for underprivileged students.’” Students later learned that “divestment was impossible because our money is in commingled funds,” Ms. Grandi Soriano said.

At Santa Clara University, members of the Santa Clara Community Action Program have been advocating for fossil fuel divestment for years.

Commingled funds—pools of money shared by multiple institutions—constitute “indirect investment.” Such investments have been cited by other universities whose holdings are mostly or totally indirect as a hurdle to divestment.

A spokesperson for Santa Clara University said the university is not considering divestment at this time.

Even as some current students have become discouraged by the lack of administrative interest, alumni have gotten more involved in climate justice activism, said Ms. Grandi Soriano. “I think students have just given up for now in regards to divestment after [perceiving] absolutely no willingness to change or even dialogue [from] the administration about this after years of trying,” she said.  

Students at Boston College have experienced similar challenges. “We have to beg and pry for the university to even speak to us,” said Kyle Rosenthal, a member of Climate Justice Boston College and the Catholic Divestment Network, a coalition of student groups at Jesuit and other Catholic universities across the country. “In the past, some meetings with administrators have been granted, though they were contentious, and it did not appear they were willing to consider what we had to say. They currently stand firm that they will not hear from us and will generally no longer meet with us, portraying divestment as a lost cause.”

Like the student activists who make up S.C.C.A.P., the members of C.J.B.C. have hosted debates, awareness-raising events and circulated a petition that, to date, has been signed by 3,000 people—undergraduates, graduate students, faculty and alumni. According to Mr. Rosenthal, “Hundreds of alumni, current students and parents have also begun pledging not to donate to B.C. until it divests.”  

 

Like students at other Jesuit universities, this cohort of Boston College students are “greatly concerned about the lack of transparency of our board of trustees,” he said, “especially when compared to Seattle University, which publishes brief meeting minutes.” (Matt Malone, S.J., America’s president and editor-in-chief, serves on the board of Boston College.)

When reached for comment, Jack Dunn, associate vice president in the Office of University Communications at Boston College, underscored the university’s opposition to fossil fuel divestment. “Boston College remains opposed to divestment from fossil fuel companies on the grounds that it is not a viable solution to the important issue of climate change,” he said in an email to America. “The University’s position is that the most effective way to limit climate change is for Boston College, along with corporations, organizations and individuals, to take active steps to reduce energy consumption and enhance sustainability measures.”

Mr. Rosenthal and the other members of the Catholic Divestment Network remain bullish about the long-term prospects for fossil fuel divestment. “We have also been in contact with the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities about spreading information about divestment and the Jesuit obligation to act. If even one institution acts—and many universities, dioceses, and provinces have—based on moral principles, then we all must.”     

Andrew Strada
2 weeks 1 day ago

According to the Seattle University website, "Our student community includes representatives from more than 75 nations, and our alumni live in nearly 100 different countries." How did the students from those 75 countries get to Seattle?

J Cosgrove
2 weeks 1 day ago

Is this just virtue signaling? Will these divested investments become lucrative investments for others?

Stanley Kopacz
1 week 6 days ago

Better to invest one's money in something more moral like illegal drugs and whorehouses.

Phillip Stone
2 weeks 1 day ago

Fossil fuel has been a wonderful gift from our creator who took pains to bury trees and oil-producing organisms beneath the rocks storing solar power until it could become the resource of his highest earthbound creation, humankind; oil, tars and coal.
He even held off the creation of ANY organism which could digest lignin and cellulose so that the dead trees and plants just fell over, did not rot and the new trees and plants grew on top of them for age upon age.
He inspired and enlightened people within Christendom to study the natural world, invent scientific inquiry and develop the scientific and industrial revolution including modern medicine and surgery, modern agriculture and animal husbandry and rapid distribution by modern air, sea and land transport of refrigerated fresh and preserved food along with electronic equipment, textiles and building materials.

India and China have made it clear, you rich first world countries have become so by using fossil fuel and we will not deny our peoples the same chance to match your prosperity and standard of living by relying on so-called renewable energy sources.
A pox on emission reduction targets.

While we have to put up with this atheist distortion of apocalyptic dread which I insist be called human produced drastic climate over-heating through unnecessary excessive carbon dioxide emission; we need to allow the poorer peoples and nations to at least obtain the levels of good nutrition, effective basic health care and disease prevention and sabbatical leisure time available to the first-world working class.
This continued use of fossil fuel only needs to happen while we build safe and effective nuclear power stations all over the world using modern safe engineering and technology. It will be a long time in the future when we can dispense with fossil fuel, of which there is plenty to last for centuries at current level of use. Wind power and solid state solar panels are useless for making aluminium and steel and concrete to name just three very important components of city life and have only limited futures for outback and remote pockets of inhabitants.
Thank God your President Trump has taken advice from REAL climate scientists and is winding back the terrible threat left by Gore, the Clintons and Obama.

The best days of the Jesuits are well and truly over, unless there is a renewal by the Holy Spirit and a purge of the current crop.

Jeffrey More
2 weeks ago

Good points, especially the last two.

Douglas Fang
2 weeks ago

I’ve never seen such a more sarcastic and humorous comment like this, especially the statement “President Trump has taken advice from REAL climate scientists”. This kind of absurd ignorance is mind-numbing. God saves all!

Phillip Stone
1 week 1 day ago

It was a brief synopsis of scientific fact seen from the perspective of the reality of a creator making the clay and then fashioning it into the vessels he had in mind all along.

Stanley Kopacz
1 week 6 days ago

Thank you for your wizzdumb. BUT maybe by sequestering carbon, God was terraforming the earth to provide a stable climate conducive to the development of civilization. Fossil fuels allowed us to establish a technological civilization and a little CO2 was a good thing but we can advance to something else now. The fossil fuels can be left in the ground in case a future generation NEEDS to adjust earth's thermostat upward. Thank God 75% of Republicans support clean renewable energy. They're not all dummies. As for REAL climate scientists, I'll settle for those who impart climate knowledge and not fog and obfuscation.

Douglas Fang
1 week 6 days ago

It is a surprise to see how many of the so-called REAL scientists still believe in a flat earth or young earth... Ignorance knows no boundary.

Phillip Stone
1 week 1 day ago

Carbon dioxide does not control the climate, the climate controls carbon dioxide.
The level of it just now is almost a record low for the whole of the history of planet earth and if it went much lower the growth of all organisms using photosynthesis would cease, killing most of the species on earth.

The vast, vast amount of carbon dioxide was sequestered in rock aeons ago, while the terraforming was in an earlier stage, the provision of oxygen at 20% in the atmosphere came later with the remnant remaining.

Somebody needs to read the book "The Ages of Gaia" by James Lovelock, it is accessible to intelligent non-scientists.
And to shock you even more, the evidence that the climate is heading for a very cold period is much greater than the current political nonsense - maybe you might Google Grand Solar Minimum to amuse yourself with more idiocy, eh?

Chuck Kotlarz
2 weeks ago

Jesuits perhaps should accelerate their fossil fuel divestment. China leads the world in hydroelectric production and has one third of the world’s wind power capacity. The International Energy Agency expects by 2022 that coal’s share of the world energy mix to hit the lowest level since IEA statistics began.

John Walton
2 weeks ago

This should embarrass every Seattle grad with a degree in the physical sciences.

Dr.Cajetan Coelho
1 week 6 days ago

Thus wrote Mahatma Gandhi: “The earth, the air, the land and the water are not an inheritance from our fore fathers but on loan from our children. So we have to handover to them at least as it was handed over to us.”

Phillip Stone
1 week 1 day ago

Gandhi was a pagan political leader. True prophets rose in a different milieu.
Neither we nor our ancestors or descendants own anything in creation.

We were put in a habitat ideally suited for our well-being, a garden pre-planted, and that was lost by disobedience.
Creation was damaged from that moment as was our relationship with the rest of the cosmos as well as our creator.
The only dominion delegated was the naming of the beasts.
Any human that thinks themselves individually or collectively more important or more dangerous than that has delusions of grandeur.

Advertisement

The latest from america

“This generation” of religious leaders whom Jesus takes to task in today’s Gospel resist the new and different.
Elizabeth Kirkland CahillDecember 13, 2018
Archbishop García-Siller keynoted “The Church in America: A Conversation on Immigration,” an event co-sponsored by America Media and the Mexican American Catholic College. Norma Pimentel, M.J., executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley and Sean Carroll, S.J., executive
J.D. Long-GarcíaDecember 13, 2018
Photo of the Velvet Underground and Nico (Cornell University - Division of Rare Manuscript Collections)
In a new exhibit, we are treated to a kind of shrine to the band’s origins.
Rob Weinert-KendtDecember 13, 2018
I was standing in the dumpster looking for food when I was overwhelmed by the thought that I am feeding my family garbage.
Judy Ann EichstedtDecember 13, 2018