April 8, 2016
University of Illinois Academic Senate votes to divest from coal companies
This week, the University of Illinois Academic Senate (over 200 faculty and students) voted in overwhelming support of a resolution to divest from coal companies — shifting the University’s investments to socially responsible funds.
The resolutions was pushed by Student Senators and the UIUC Beyond Coal campaign, which has organized since 2011 on this issue. This vote comes after two Illinois Student Senate resolutions pushing divestment (passed in 2012 and 2015) and a campus-wide referendum with 86% supporting divestment.
UIUC Beyond Coal campaign members and Student Senators will be meeting with the campus treasury to ensure campus-level funds are switched as soon as possible.
PRN staff member Tyler Rotche has been working with the UIUC Beyond Coal campaign since the divestment movement began in 2011. Here’s his take on the significance of this victory:
Since the UIUC Beyond Coal campaign began pushing for divestment in 2011, the fossil fuel divestment movement has grown from three university campaigns to a worldwide movement: 509 institutions have now committed to divest $3.4 trillion.
The fossil fuel divestment movement has its origins in the Apartheid divestment movement of the 1970s and 80s: responding to the apartheid system that disenfranchised people of color in South Africa — and inaction by the US government — students pressured their universities to divest. The movement made stock in businesses that benefited from apartheid morally unacceptable and companies began to withdraw from South Africa. Investors gave visibility and legitimacy to the movement, opening space for strong political sanctions, and the South African government began to realize the damage of being isolated.
Anti-apartheid activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu has a similar analysis of fossil fuel divestment: “We cannot necessarily bankrupt the fossil fuel industry. But we can take steps to reduce its political clout, and hold those who rake in the profits accountable for cleaning up the mess.”
The divestment movement reflects diminishing investor confidence in an industry that has continued to collapse, shrinking nearly 90 percent from where it stood in April 2011.
But more importantly, major institutional investors are sending a clear message that fossil fuel companies are no longer operating by ethical standards. At the University of Illinois, senators sent a clear message that the risks from coal mining, poorly-regulated self-bonding, and polluting coal ash sites need to be addressed.
As coal companies propose transferring damages to taxpayers and community members who may have to clean up their mess, Universities and other major institutions are saying what our regulators aren’t: “that is unacceptable.”