Proposed to the Board of Trustees by the Gonzaga Student Body Association in May 2017, was the concept of divesting from carbon-intensive companies that threaten the well-being of the environment. Ultimately meaning the administration would take a stand with those values associated with environmental consciousness. Due to student voices being at the forefront of this initiative, the conversation surrounding sustainable investing is still active.
However, the recent and agreed upon decision by the Board of Trustees, the Environment, Social and Governance Task Force and Investment Committee is different from the initial 2017 resolution by GSBA.
The institution ended up not achieving divestment but is instead, pursuing a differently structured plan. In his email to the Gonzaga Community on Dec. 10, President Thayne McCulloh shared the Board’s decision to implement changes to its investment strategy.
The various stakeholders “carefully considered the complexity of this issue, weighing the impacts of specific actions, such as divestment, upon the University, the environment and society. This resulted in the Task Force making recommendations that represent a holistic investment approach for creating positive, measurable impact,” McCulloh said.
Five recommendations for socially responsible strategies for investment are listed in McCulloh’s address but there are no specifics on how the Board of Trustees will see those steps through, what the community can expect in the future, and which companies constitute as ethical and sustainable enough to invest in.
“I think the majority of the recommendations are empty agreements,” said Tori Shaw, one of the student leaders of Fossil Free Gonzaga (FFG). “They lack the urgency our climate system requires of us and thus it saddens me that these are the final conclusions that were proposed.”
“Making small, positive investments, while welcome, does not justify the attempt to profit from the sale of the substances causing the climate crisis,” said Brian Henning, faculty leader to FFG, professor of philosophy and chair of environmental studies. “As demonstrated by Seattle University, who committed to divesting last year, it is possible to maintain a healthy endowment that is consistent with our Jesuit, Catholic mission.”
Only with transparency between the GU community and the Board, ESG task force and Investment Committee, can all parties achieve an understanding of Gonzaga’s true goals moving forward.
“The enhanced strategy balances the call of our institutional Mission, the University Strategic Plan and our Climate Action Plan to operate in a sustainable manner with the perpetual need to maintain a diversified endowment portfolio designed to optimize net investment returns, which is essential to make a Gonzaga education affordable,” McCulloh said in his address.
The Task Force and Board believe that choosing to, from now on, invest in companies that have true sustainable values will be more beneficial than divesting from the top 200 most carbon-intensive companies.
There needs to be strength rooted in these recommendations to actually implement change. But, that may not be enough.
“We will not stop this work until Gonzaga commits to divesting meaningfully from fossil fuels, as we believe profiting from the destruction of our planet's climate system is contradictory to our Jesuit values,” Shaw said. “Our good investments should not simply be required to outweigh our bad ones.”
Early this semester, there will be a campus forum that faculty, students and community members can attend to ask questions and to further discuss this decision.
“Students who are willing to stand up and have their voices heard have always served as Gonzaga’s moral conscience. If students take a stand, the Board will listen,” said Henning.
Melina Benjamin is a staff writer.