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Fossil fuel divestment considered by University of Utah

Posted at 1:27 PM, Mar 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-23 15:27:51-04

SALT LAKE CITY — University of Utah might divest itself of its billion-dollar endowment from fossil fuels, according to a draft report stating that this would help align its financial support with its values, reports the Salt Lake Tribune.

Climate change--and hence the move toward this possible divestment--has long been a debate on campus. The report, compiled at the request of the University of Utah's Academic Senate, lays out several recommendations toward reinvesting the school's $60-$90 million endowment in fossil fuels.

“The university should shift its energy-related investments to companies that reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by generating, distributing, and using clean and renewable energy, or to other investments that promote environmental sustainability . . . as quickly as feasible, but in a manner (that supports) the university and its students, faculty, staff, and programs,” states the report.

This is not the first time an attempt at divestment was proposed; five years ago, a narrowly divided academic senate voted in favor of divestment, but the trustees declined to adopt that strategy.

Those opposing divestment point to the many uses of fossil energy on campus, including to power its labs, heat its buildings, and transport students to campus.

But the student association led the charge for divestment, voting unanimously to approve a resolution that the university withdraw investments in greenhouse gas generating companies, such as coal-fired generators and gas and oil pipelines.

“We wanted to start with a preliminary draft so that we could continue to gather feedback from all perspectives at the U on this topic, rather than defending a position,” said Allyson Mower, a librarian at the Marriott Library who led the committee that prepared the report.

University of Utah would not be alone in this effort. According to the report, eight Pac-12 schools and nearly a third of the those in the American Association of Universities have fossil fuel divestment
in varying degrees.

“The recommendations are grounded in the university’s mission statement and existing policies. This is not just a statement about what would be good for society, but something that is framed by what the institution has already committed itself to,” added Mower.

An upcoming virtual town hall on April 12 will feature the report's findings, with comments from the community considered before a vote on the matter by the academic senate on April 26. A final decision will be made by the University of Utah's board of trustees at a future date.