Many universities have holdings in oil and coal companies in order to fund their budget, and Seattle U is no exception.
Campaigns to withdraw investments from these companies have sprung up across the United States, particularly in environmentally progressive areas of the country like the Pacific Northwest.
The divestment campaign at Seattle U is spearheaded by Sustainable Student Action (SSA), a group of students dedicated to “educat[ing] the community on environmental issues and to work on projects that lead to a more sustainable future,” according to the SSA mission statement.
While the group’s overall focus is broad, their chosen project as of last year is divestment.
Ultimately, their goal is to put divestment on the school’s collective consciousness.
While there are movements across the country, The Spectator spoke to several members of the SSA, who say that Seattle U could be a leader and model for other schools considering divestment, because only a small portion of Seattle U’s overall funds come from fossil fuel companies. They view the campaign as a way to send a political message and statement that the environment is a top priority.
After SSA presented their resolution to SGSU, and Seattle U’s student government released a statement in support of divestment and advised the university to conduct a feasibility study.
They added only one condition: If such a study projects that divestment will impact tuition rates, they will request that “appropriate steps be taken to divest without harming student financial well-being and access to services.”
“We’re fighting for budget transparency right now,” said freshman representative Owen Goetze.
Making this information readily available could spread support for divestment.
While the statement was eventually passed unanimously within SGSU, the initial vote as to whether or not to support SSA in divestment has been one of the most controversial ones of the 2013-2014 term. Eight people voted in favor of the cause, three voted against, and one abstained.
Most arguments against divestment stem from questions of feasibility. If universities divest away from oil companies, where do they reallocate those investments? Would they be as consistently profitable?
Some speculate that divestment could raise tuition costs. Additionally, some have pointed out the streak of hypocrisy in divestment. Is everyone who advocates against investing in oil companies doing everything they can to eradicate the use of oil from their lives? It’s probably not safe to assume that they never drive a car, or mow their lawn, opponents argue.
Many of these concerns were raised by fellow Washingtonians in the comments on a recent article about divestment in the The Seattle Times.
SSA argues that a feasibility study would show how workable or unworkable it would be for Seattle U to divest in fossil fuel companies. Therefore, they posit that it makes sense to wait until such a study has been conducted before assuming that it tuition rates would spike.
Seattle U’s Finance Department could not be reached for comment regarding this issue.
SSA Representative Ames Fowler responded to the accusations of hypocrisy in divestment. Instead of focusing on the consumers, the divestment campaign centers around the suppliers: fossil fuel companies that ravage the environment. Fowler said he had no qualms about addressing an industry that “is willing to put profit above human life.”
Seattle U’s divestment campaign has grown rapidly. Last spring, it gained momentum and during fall quarter, SSA was able to present SGSU with a petition with over 600 signatures. SGSU traditionally holds public comments sessions before their assemblies, in which usually only one or two people show up. In a startling reversal of the apparently apathetic trend, as many as ten individuals came forward to make comments in favor of divestment to SGSU before their voting.