The SGA Student Sustainability Committee met with eight members of the University System of Maryland Foundation on Tuesday to promote fossil fuel divestment.
The Student Government Association passed a bill in November urging the system to divest — or remove investments in fossil fuel companies — completely, and this meeting served as the next volume in a saga of requests as the committee waits for action from the university system.
While system representatives were receptive to the possibility of divesting over the next 10 years, they did not immediately commit to divestment or freezing new investments in fossil fuel companies.
“We’re going to be very receptive and keeping on [the university system] to make sure that we hold them accountable and make it very public because I think they have the opportunity to do really great things,” said Maya Spaur, director of the SGA’s sustainability committee.
Adrian Boafo, vice president of undergraduate affairs for the University System of Maryland Student Council, said the meeting went well, even though the university system has not committed to divestment.
“It was a very productive meeting,” said Boafo, who also serves as the University of Baltimore SGA president, “but we hope that in the near future, maybe in the next 10 years, that they can commit to not investing money in any dirty energy sources.”
A point of inspiration for the committee is the University of Dayton, which is in the process of divesting $35 million from fossil fuels, a goal the university set in early 2014.
“We’ve got to figure out what we can do to commit to clean energy and climate change for all our 12 institutions,” Boafo said.
Despite this university’s recognition as a Princeton Review Top 20 Green School in 2015 and a $20 million energy conservation project still underway on the campus, the university system has not made the same progress in its investments. These investments essentially put student money into companies that don’t necessarily share this university’s publicized green priority, committee member Willem Klajbor said.
“I feel like we kind of pride ourselves on being a sustainable university, a green campus,” Klajbor said. “It’s just hypocritical for the university system to be invested in those kind of [fossil fuel] companies.”
The university system members implied that divesting completely and immediately would come at a loss of about 4 percent of the system’s current endowment.
Spaur said system members reiterated the risks of immediately withdrawing all investments from fossil fuels, but she and the committee were adamant about pushing their proposal for a five-year plan rather than an immediate withdrawal.
Paul Mullan, a member of the system foundation’s investments committee, said at the meeting that divesting over a course of 10 years would not hurt the university system financially.
“We understand that it would take at least five years to do it smartly,” Spaur said. “We know the complexities we’re working against.”
The sustainability committee argued for an immediate freeze on new investments in fossil fuel companies, meaning the university system would not invest in these companies moving forward. The committee is waiting to hear from the foundation about the costs of withdrawing investments gradually over the next five or 10 years.
Though it was able to discuss its interest and counted the meeting a small success, Spaur said the SGA committee ultimately did not achieve its goal.
“We need to have an immediate commitment to have no more future fossil funds,” Spaur said, “and we didn’t come out of the meeting with that.”
CORRECTION: Due to a reporting error, a previous version of this story incorrectly identified Adrian Boafo as vice president of undergraduate affairs for the University System of Maryland. Boafo is vice president of undergraduate affairs for the University System of Maryland Student Council. The article has been updated.
CORRECTION: Due to a reporting error, a previous version of this story quoted Maya Spaur as saying student tuition payments goes into the university’s endowment fund. The fund is made up of private money and donations, not tuition payments.