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The Blue & Gray Press | August 25, 2019

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No more waiting around, UMW needs divestment now

No more waiting around, UMW needs divestment now


As responsive as the University of Mary Washington says it is, it has been two years since the university has answered the pleas of DivestUMW students. Finally there is some hope for students of DivestUMW because the subcommittee of President Hurley’s Council on Sustainability has researched the advantages of divesting.

However, after reading the special report by the subcommittee it still reads as though the university has an apathetic attitude towards making this decision. The subcommittee listed two possible paths to take in divesting. One path is optimistic and the other is pessimistic, according to the special report.

The university has offered a 98 percent or 99 percent divestment from 200 of the largest fossil fuel companies. Further on in the special report it explains why the university will not completely divest from fossil-fuels.

The reasons that are stated in the special report are as follows, “becoming 100 percent fossil-free requires changes to the investment portfolio” and divestment will be challenging “in determining which companies qualify as fossil-fuel related.” It looks to me that those reasons lack the determination which the university preaches of when talking to students.

I do not recall applying to a college that was complacent in making changes especially when that college “aims to be a statewide leader in sustainability and the environment,” as it says in the special report.

Globally there have been reports of an increase in temperatures that has caught the attention of the European Commission. The Paris Agreement on climate change has recognized that fossil fuel dependency needs to come to a halt. This February has been recorded as “the warmest month since global temperature averages were first tabulated using satellite data,” according to the special report.

The university is obviously conflicted in making this decision due to financial reasons but as it states in the special report, there is no way of certainly knowing the economic outcome of this decision. What is known, however, is that this choice will make the university one of the first universities in Virginia to divest from fossil fuel stocks.

If this move in divesting will be one that is more symbolic than it is transformative for climate change then the university should not be afraid to divest 100 percent. In the special report, it has even recognized the hypocrisy of the university’s own hesitation.

“A strong moral argument can be made that maintaining investments in such companies is not consistent with the University of Mary Washington’s public mission,” according to the report.

Although the university invests indirectly from the fossil-fuel companies through index funds, the simple act of divesting shows a commitment to sustainability that could lead to a trend for other universities to follow. If the university does not follow through with this decision I think many of the DivestUMW students and myself will see it as the university clinging onto comfort.

The decision will be up to the Board of Visitors and as one student of DivestUMW said, it is of great concern to him that the BOV makes the right choice.

“We are seeing fossil fuel companies harm our communities and the communities of others, and the Board and Administration of Mary Washington must act in ways that will put themselves on the right side of history,” said sophomore Noah Goodwin.

The overall dependence on fossil-fuels, including our own, only supports the large companies that have lost significant value in their stocks due to the overwhelming obvious need to change to renewable forms of energy.

If the UMW wants to be a leader in sustainability, then it must acknowledge the petitions of DivestUMW students. Climate change has not received the attention that it needs in addressing the environment.