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UofU Faculty Backs Fossil Fuel Divestment

Image courtesy University of Utah
A vote by the Academic Senate on Tuesday urges University of Utah leaders to shift investment out of fossil fuel companies in the next five years and into sustainable and socially responsible businesses.

The idea’s been debated at the U for several years: that it’s time to stop investingin companies selling the products behind the rapid changes in global climate. On Tuesday, The University of Utah’s Academic Senate joined more than 500 organizations worldwide in pressing university leaders to divest from fossil-fuel companies.

The issue remained a debate until the Academic Senate voted.

“It is clear that the purpose of divestment is to make a political statement on the issue using the university’s endowment,” said Ed Trujillo, an associate professor in the U’s Chemical Engineering Department, in the debate prior to the vote.  “It is also clear that this will not have a direct reduction of greenhouse gas.”

But Trujillo said the vote probably would undermine the revenue stream the university relies on to carry out its mission. The U’s endowment is over $1 billion, and a only a slight majority voted in favor of shifting investments from fossil fuel companies and into socially responsible businesses over five years.

Supporters billed the cause as a moral issue on par with apartheid in South Africa and the tobacco industry.

“This is an historic moment and an important moment as escalation around fossil fuel divestment ramps up across the country,” said Matt Kirkegaard, a U senior who collected over one thousand signatures supporting divestment in the past three years. “So, I’m proud that the university today has decided to invest in my future rather than in a future of fossil fuels.”

Kirkegaard says he hopes that the U’s student government will follow suit in the fall. Divestment efforts are also underway at Weber State University, Westminster College and the Natural History Museum of Utah.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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