SF State's investment in fossil fuels betrays its good causes

Xpress Staff

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As the national economy continues on the slow road to recovery everyone is looking for a quick way to make a buck. Our University is no different, as it looks to make the best use of its money, investing in companies that will grant the biggest returns.

But when those investments conflict with the guiding principles that our University espouses, action needs to be taken. That action comes in the form of divestment.

Divestment is the removal of funds — in the form of stocks, bonds, and other investments — because of political, ethical or financial reasons.

Numerous governmental institutions announced divestments from weapons companies in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shootings. The purpose was to show that while investments need to produce good returns, they can do so without compromising the morals of those investing.

And that brings us to SF State, a governmental institution badly in need of every penny it can get its hands on, but also one that has a history of setting precedents on progressive causes.

The University was the first in the country with a College of Ethnic Studies offering degrees in Latina/Latino, Africana, and Asian studies, and the first to offer a degree in international relations. If we are a university committed to progressive causes, equity and social justice, SF State will follow suit and prohibit the investment of university funds in fossil fuels.

According to the SF State Foundation’s restricted investment policy, up to one quarter of SF State’s endowment assets could be invested in fossil fuels. SF State’s current endowment assets are roughly $49 million.

The SF State Foundation clearly prohibits investments in foreign bonds from countries with regimes engaging in human rights abuses and direct investments in tobacco companies, though through a bit of a loophole, it is allowed to invest in tobacco companies in commingled, or combined funds. This soft attempt at solidarity against tobacco companies fails to actually remove any and all funds from the tobacco industry.

Policy prohibiting investments in fossil fuels should not have any exceptions. SF State either bears the image of support and approval of exploitation of natural lands, non-renewable energy, global warming and the million other issues spurred by fossil fuels, or takes a firm stance against it.

We couldn’t help but notice the irony of a university that publicly encourages sustainability and social justice, but lacks an unequivocal policy against investments in fossil fuels. SF State’s mission should transcend all sectors of the University, from our curriculum to our administration, and even to the funds in which our University chooses to invest.

The SF State Foundation’s auditor’s report only listed investments as “corporate debt securities” or “equity securities” with no further explanation. This left us to ask: In whom, exactly, are we investing, and to what extent?

It is in SF State’s interest to be completely transparent to its students and the greater public about its inner workings, especially where money is concerned.

With greater transparency and a stricter policy on divestment from fossil fuels, SF State will further align itself with San Francisco (which recently announced divestment from guns and fossil fuels), the city SF State is trying to forge greater connections with, and prove to students it is making attempts at a more communicative and responsive relationship.

We love to hear about commitments to social justice and sustainability, but we need more than lip service. It’s time for the University to put its money where its mouth is.