Earlier this month, the Faculty Senate moved to table the vote on Fossil Free Gonzaga’s divestment resolution until their April 4 meeting.
Fossil Free Gonzaga (FFG) drafted a resolution that demands that GU divest from companies that are part of the Fossil Free Index report of the top-200 most carbon-intensive companies. The resolution was passed by the GSBA senate last spring and is currently being discussed by GU’s Board of Trustees and the Faculty Senate.
Introduced in December, the Senate was given until their first spring meeting to take a side on the issue. The vote was tabled because most of the meeting was spent reviewing the new faculty handbook and because new information on the resolution was introduced.
Dr. Brian Henning is the leader of the Faculty Divestment Campaign and directly works with FFG on their cause.
“Seeking to profit from the sale of the fossil fuels that are creating catastrophic climate change is fundamentally inimical to the values the university espouses, especially concerns for the poor, social justice and ‘care for the planet,’ as our mission statement puts it,” he said.
The resolution’s main argument condemns GU for seemingly ignoring its mission statement. Senior Ashley Beausoleil was involved with the start of the divestment campaign and labels GU’s investments as hypocritical.
“Everyone here should be following Gonzaga’s mission no matter what,” Beausoleil said. “No matter if it’s in our daily lives, our academic work, whether it’s through the legacies we leave, and that includes what our university invests in. We just want to be aligned with our mission.”
The Faculty Senate President, Dr. Brian Steverson, explained that the Senate wanted to make sure it was making the right decision in their vote on FFG’s resolution.
“The Senate takes very seriously the issue of divestment and supports divestment,” Steverson said. “But it wants to make sure that if it were to pass a resolution, that resolution not only serves the goal of fossil fuel divestment but also serves the goal of the university’s endowment.”
He said two issues were brought up during the meeting by some faculty senators and that these caused enough of a concern that the senators wanted more time to consider the vote.
“It may require divesting from the mutual fund itself, and there are costs specific to that,” he said. “The Board of Trustees has a fiduciary responsibility to invest the endowment responsibly. Another issue is figuring out how are we going to meet the demand of divesting from these 200 companies given that the list changes from year to year.”
The Faculty Senate does not have any power to actually enforce the resolution; that power lies with the Board of Trustees and University President Thayne McCulloh. If the Faculty Senate voted in favor of the resolution, it could only give a recommendation to the board and the president.
“We can’t direct the Board of Trustees to do anything, nor can we direct President McCulloh to do anything; but we can represent the will of the faculty,” said Steverson.
The trustees are reviewing the resolution independently of the Faculty Senate and will announce their decision at the end of the school year. FFG has been open to conversation with the board but realistic with their expectations.
“The trustees come from a wide variety of backgrounds and some of them have made their careers being financial advisers. So, in a way, it’s kind of like us as students telling them how to do their job, which is never received well and I don’t expect it to be received well,” said Beausoleil.
The repeated message from Steverson was that tabling the vote means nothing to how the senate will eventually vote and is not a bad sign for the resolution or divestment campaign.
“There are different ways to go about achieving this goal of this resolution, and that’s what the Senate wanted to discuss: what are the other ways of achieving the goal that we want to achieve in ways that don’t require a specific divestment from specific companies,” Steverson said.
Some of these other ways might include impact investing, which could counter the effect of investing in fossil-fuel intensive companies by investing in companies more aligned with GU’s mission.
Still, members of FFG had hoped for a different result from Wednesday’s meeting.
“Obviously, because I am so passionate about our mission and about divestment, it was a little disappointing for me because it seems to be stagnant, but I’m trying not to take it as a negative,” said Beausoleil. “[The senators] are just trying to make an informed decision, which is what we want from them.”
Henning is still passionate that GU must make some sort of change in its investment policy.
“The university, and world, will eventually end investment in polluting fossil energy. The question is whether Gonzaga will continue to try to make money off oil, coal and natural gas as the age of fossil energy comes to an end,” he said.
“The campaign will continue to fight for divestment, no matter how long it takes. Climate change is accelerating. The world will eventually realize it has to move off of fossil energy. Inimical to the values of our institution, we could continue to seek to profit from the final years of the fossil fuel age. We could wait to divest after the planet and the poor are devastated,” said Henning.
Sean Price is a contributor.