UC Berkeley Faculty Association urges divestment from fossil fuel companies

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The UC Berkeley Faculty Association urged the UC Board of Regents to divest funds from fossil fuel companies Sunday, just five days before the UC Task Force on Sustainable Investing will present its own recommendations to the regents.

The association joins the ASUC and the Graduate Assembly, which have both divested from fossil fuels and encouraged the regents to do the same. Berkeley City Council, which in 2013 became the first city council in the nation to divest its own funds, will be deciding whether to add its support Sept. 9.

The association’s call to divest also comes before the regents address the issue at their meeting Sept. 17 to 18.

Thirteen colleges, including Stanford University, have already decided not to invest their endowments and other funds in fossil fuel industries, according to a statement from the association.

“The planet needs action immediately — every year is creating further degeneration,” said James Vernon, co-chairman of the association and a professor in the campus history department.

The total investments managed by the University of California amount to about $91 billion. Of that $91 billion, about $10 billion is invested in the energy sector. The university invests about $3 billion in companies with high fossil fuel reserves within that sector, said UC spokesperson Dianne Klein.

In its statement of support, the association paralleled this campaign to previous university divestment movements, including divestment from companies doing business in apartheid South Africa in 1985 and from tobacco interests in 2001.

The university has a special responsibility as a public university to help lead the campaign against fossil fuels and climate change, the statement said.

The faculty representatives voted unanimously to support fossil fuel divestment, Vernon said.

The issue of UC divestment also concerns the city of Berkeley. According to Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington, UC Berkeley and Interstate Highway 80 are the two biggest carbon producers in the city.

During the July regents’ meeting, Worthington met with a number of students in Fossil Free UC, a group that advocates divestment.

After discussions with the students, he decided it would be a logical next step for City Council to support their cause, having already divested its own funds.

“I don’t expect miracles overnight,” Worthington said. “But even a small step — even just saying they are going down the divestment path — is something.”

Fossil Free UC launched a calling campaign Sept. 3 urging the UC Chief Investment Officer Jagdeep Singh Bachher and his office to divest funds.

The UC Task Force on Sustainable Investing — an 11-member group of financial experts, UC faculty and student representatives — was set to release its recommendation that same day, according to Fossil Free UC, but ultimately delayed the release to this week. The task force has been discussing the issue since June.

Fossil Free UC plans to continue advocating divestment at the regents’ meeting Sept. 17.

Daniel Tutt is the lead higher education reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @danielgtutt.