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January 24, 2017

 University of Denver Rejects Divestment, Latest in Tide of College Rejections

After months of meetings and deliberation, the University of Denver (DU) has officially rejected fossil fuel divestment. According to the DU Board of Trustees:

“Regarding divestment, the Board adopted the task force recommendation that divestment in fossil fuel companies, or any other industry, would not be an effective means of mitigating global warming nor would it be consistent with the endowment’s long-term purpose to provide enduring benefit to present and future students, faculty, staff and other stakeholders. Rather, the University of Denver’s greatest ability to mitigate climate change and foster a sustainable future lies in deploying its core competencies: education, research and the ability to foster informed community discourse and in accelerating its sustainability in its operations.” (emphasis added)

The Board’s report continues:

“A strategy of industry stigmatization drives a wedge between the University of Denver and the fossil fuel companies that represent an important part of the economic base of Colorado and the nation. Equally important, stigmatizing fossil fuel companies inherently involves stigmatization of their employees as well. As a general matter, the panel believes that stigmatizing individuals based upon a career choice to work for an employer engaged in a lawful enterprise is inappropriate.

“As an institution of higher learning, the University of Denver is committed to support the success of DU students by helping to place graduates in positions that are consistent with their education and career interests. These placements span nearly every conceivable field—including energy development and production—in the private, non-profit and public sectors. The task force finds it unimaginable that the University of Denver would choose to stigmatize its own graduates as they pursue careers with legitimate organizations. While members of the task force share the concern for climate change presented by Divest DU students and 350.org, the task force concludes that stigmatizing fossil fuel or energy sector firms and their employees in Colorado and the nation is neither a desirable nor an effective approach to dealing with climate change.”

Instead, University of Denver will adopt a “formal policy addressing climate change, developing partnerships to address issues of climate change and sustainable development through its academic efforts in research, teaching and service, and ensuring that all academic and administrative units embrace efforts to foster sustainability.”

Today’s decision, initially expected last week, comes on the heels of notable rejections around the country this year, with over 45 U.S. colleges now on the record rejecting fossil fuel divestment due to everything from its negligible impact on the environment to the high costs it imposes on students.

In 2016 alone, the divestment campaign has seen rejections from schools like Cornell, UPenn, Notre Dame, Rice University, Northeastern, and University of Utah.  Six of the eight Ivy League colleges in the United States are also now on record rejecting divestment, with the only two yet to take a formal stance on the issue — Dartmouth and Princeton — both suggesting they will not move forward with an empty, costly pledge.

So just why has divestment been so ineffective at top universities across the country? For starters, while supporters of the effort believe giving up holdings in fossil fuels has an impact on the environment, divestment has no tangible impact on targeted companies, their practices, or environmental and sustainability cause. As DU professor Frank Laird, a renewable energy advocate who has been sharply critical of fossil-fuel divestment, told the DU Task Force, divestment is “not merely ineffective but I think it can have a negative effect on decarbonizing the energy system because frankly it’s a distraction from a set of large and complex tasks.”

This sentiment has been repeated by universities time and again, with many opting for investments in sustainability and engagement over empty gestures like divestment.

Beyond being ineffective, the costs of divestment are simply too high to bear. For the University of Denver, Dr. Chris Fiore, Senior Economist at Compass Lexecon, calculated a possible $250 million price tag over 20 years if DU were to divest. Current DU students like Scott Albertoni have objected to this type of reckless spending of the endowment, noting, “[T]hese efforts could have a significant financial impact on the entire student body. That is why I hope the task force will consider the larger student population when crafting their recommendation.”

Lastly, divestment is a hypocritical decision for the millions of individuals who rely on energy every day to live their lives. As Notre Dame University president Fr. John Jenkins describes, “Nearly all acknowledge that there is no practical plan by which we could cease using fossil fuels in the immediate future and continue the work of the University. It seems to me at least a practical inconsistency to attempt to stigmatize an industry, as proponents of divestment hope, from which, we admit, we must purchase.”

DivestmentFacts highlighted these key issues over the past year at a number of events in Colorado, including in on campus meetings and at an energy forum focused on divestment this December. In September, DivestmentFacts’ own Simon Lomax spoke in front of the DU Board, accompanied by twenty-five energy workers and industry supporters who also opposed divestment. In an hour-long presentation, Lomax offered a look at the real costs of divestment for universities, the growing list of failures of 350.org’s anti-fossil fuels campaign, and the critical role of the energy sector and energy workers for Colorado’s economy.

In October, four of the state’s top energy trade groups – the Colorado Oil & Gas Association, the Colorado Petroleum Council, the Colorado Petroleum Association and the Western Energy Alliance – made a joint appeal to the DU task force to reject 350.org’s divestment push. “[W]e believe 350.org has taken advantage of this process – and of the students who requested it – to create a political platform for itself,” the energy groups warned in a letter to the task force. “Following the recent defeat of two anti-oil and gas ballot initiatives, 350.org needs a high-profile ‘win’ to remain relevant in Colorado, and successfully lobbying DU to divest from fossil fuels would provide the group such a victory.”

Energy groups also joined forces at an energy forum in Colorado in December, with officials from Colorado’s higher education and energy sectors all urging DU to reject divestment. At the event, Heidi Ganahl, recently elected to a statewide seat on the University of Colorado Board of Regents, highlighted why numerous colleges, including the University of Colorado, have rejected divestment:

“They have rejected calls for divestment not only because it is a questionable investment strategy, but also because the direct beneficiaries of investments are students who receive scholarship funds and faculty whose research is supported in part by investment income.”

Today’s rejection decision from the University of Denver is just one more example of another school standing firm and saying no to divestment, a flawed policy for students and the environment.

Learn more from Divestment Facts on the divestment debate that has taken place at DU over the past several months:

  • Reject 350.org’s ‘Shallow and Misleading’ Divestment Campaign, Denver Post Columnist Tells DU (1/9/17)
  • Things are Looking Grim for Fossil-Fuel Divestment Activists in Colorado (12/21/16)
  • Colorado Leaders to DU: Don’t Divest From Fossil Fuels (12/16/16)
  • Divestment Facts Rolls Out New Web Video in Denver (12/15/16)
  • The University of Denver’s Divestment Debate: What Have We Learned So Far? (10/6/16)