I was proud when my alma mater, the University of Dayton, made a run in the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship this past season.
But the Catholic university run by the Marianist order is making news in a different arena. Last week, the board of trustees said it will begin divesting coal and fossil fuels from its $670 million investment pool.
“This action, which is a significant step in a long-term process, is consistent with Catholic social teachings, our Marianist values, and comprehensive campuswide sustainability initiatives and commitments under the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment,” University of Dayton President Daniel J. Curran said in a news release. “We cannot ignore the negative consequences of climate change, which disproportionately impact the world’s most vulnerable people. Our Marianist values of leadership and service to humanity call upon us to act on these principles and serve as a catalyst for civil discussion and positive change that benefits our planet.”
I asked several private colleges and universities in the midstate if they had investments in coal and/or fossil fuels. I also asked, if they did, were they having discussions about doing something similar to UD?
“(T)he board of trustees at Lebanon Valley College has not engaged in any discussions about changing its investment policies based on any considerations other than ensuring that the college’s funds are getting the best possible return for the least amount of risk,” said Emily Summey, spokeswoman for the Lebanon County school.
Central Penn College Chief Financial Officer Richard Varmecky said the Cumberland County school does not have any investments in coal or fossil fuel companies.
David Walker, vice president for finance and planning at Messiah College in Cumberland County, said this: “In keeping with its religious tradition, Messiah College excludes corporations that produce tobacco, alcohol, gaming and weapons from its directly-held stock and bond holdings. It does not exclude coal and fossil fuel stocks by policy, but its current direct holdings in coal, and fossil fuel firms are minimal, i.e., less than 1/4 of the U.S. index weighting. The college’s investment committee periodically reviews environmental and social investment criteria, and a discussion of fossil fuels is on the agenda for their next meeting.”
York College Dean of Business Affairs and CEO Matt Smith, who works with the college’s board of trustees investment committee, said divestment is on the board’s radar.
“We are aware that other colleges have gone in the same direction as the University of Dayton but have not engaged in any significant discussions with the board of trustees to make similar changes,” he said. “We will likely have more discussions on this topic in the future.”
I queried Elizabethtown College and Dickinson College, but officials weren’t able to get back to me before my deadline.
Julia Ferrante, director of media relations at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, said the college has a different investment structure than UD’s. Much of its funds are tied to mutual funds and private investment partnerships. Therefore, it doesn’t really have a framework to pick the stocks in which it invests.
However, “socially responsible investing has been a part of our endowment management, and in the 1980s, Franklin & Marshall aligned its investments with the Sullivan Principles,” she said, referring to the investing principles first developed in South Africa to protest apartheid. “The college in October 2012 adopted a Sustainability Master Plan, and at that time the Investment Office shared this news with our investment managers to strengthen their understanding of the college’s values of financial and environmental sustainability.”
Other schools in the area are doing similar things to promote sustainability. Many have signed on to the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. Even a few of the public schools in the region, such as Millersville University, have done this.
Now, I am not one to go out and hug a tree, but I’m proud. A lot of what UD is doing now grew from seeds planted by students, faculty and Marianists while I attended the school from 1997 to 2001. One of my roommates was the founder of UD’s Sustainability Club, which still is going strong. He and his now-wife were the first co-presidents.
Think what you want regarding the arguments over climate change, but being prudent is never a bad thing. The Rev. Martin Solma, S.M., provincial for the Marianist Province of the U.S. and a member of the UD board’s investment committee, said human beings can be balanced.
“We believe it is possible and necessary to be both responsible stewards of our planet and fiduciaries,” he said. “The tremendous moral imperative to act in accordance with our mission far outweighed any other considerations for divestment.”
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