By MATTHEW GOOD
Over the course of the past several weeks, divestment has reemerged as a forefront issue on several college campuses. Student advocacy groups like DivestUMW here at the University of Mary Washington seek college administrations to remove institutions’ investments in fossil fuel companies. However, I argue, they fail to completely consider the consequences of their demands.
Many students’ educations are funded in part by the returns of their parents’ portfolios. I’m sure there are members of DivestUMW who are a part of that demographic, and the likelihood of said portfolios containing companies like Exxon Mobil is very high. The simple truth: it works. Investments in energy and other fossil fuel-related companies have traditionally yielded large returns, making them a staple in the books of citizens, colleges, and other organizations.
This money has allowed for scholarships, projects, and countless other improvements that otherwise would not have been possible. Personally, a sizable percentage of my college fund is a result of direct and indirect investments in fossil fuels by my parents and their broker. Why is the focus solely on institutional divestment and not individual? Is it just easier to have the University take the responsibility of an issue that we should all bear?
With current oil prices, it may be easy to rationalize a relatively painless process for the University to divest, but with a lack of readily available information as to the size and scope of current investments from the University or the UMW Foundation, the impacts could be grossly underestimated.
As with many extra or unforeseen expenditures experienced by colleges, tuition hikes, additional fees and program reductions are endured by students in order to balance the books. This begs the question, are we prepared to make college less affordable if it means assuaging our consciences?
I wholeheartedly agree that we as a society need to break our dependence on fossil fuels, and fast, but nothing can be accomplished with heavy rhetoric and no plan. Meaningful change comes from the bottom-up, not the top-down. I would suggest that DivestUMW and the entire Mary Washington body direct their passions into reducing consumption, increasing efficiency, and making smarter environmental decisions.
If divestment turns out to be a part of that plan, it should be undertaken with the utmost of confidence that it is the right decision, and that it is making changes for the better for the university.