SUNY New Paltz Votes to Divest From Fossil Fuels

 With finding a balance between fiscal responsibilities and sustainability goals, SUNY New Paltz came to a decision after a year-long discussion regarding the university’s involvement with fossil fuel companies.

On Thursday, Sept. 14 the SUNY New Paltz Foundation Board made the ultimate decision to remove endowment funds from direct investment in fossil fuel companies.

The SUNY New Paltz Foundation endowment currently stands at about $20 million. When evaluated as of June 30, nearly 4.5 percent, or $920,055, was directly invested in fossil fuel companies.

 According to Executive Director of the SUNY New Paltz Foundation and Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations Erica Marks, the money being divested from these companies will be invested elsewhere.

 “The funds will be withdrawn no later than Dec. 31 from direct investment in fossil fuels and invested by our investment manager in a range of other companies and funds,” she said.

 Marks explained that in the upcoming months the performance of the endowment will be closely monitored in order to make sure that students, faculty and the College will not be adversely affected by the investments.

“Our goal is to grow the endowment and ensure that our investments enjoy robust returns, continuing to benefit from scholarships and the myriad of programs that the Foundation supports,” she said.

 The decision to reassess the investments made by the Foundation came in September 2016 when a group of students approached the Board with the proposal that divestment could further help reach the College’s goals for sustainability.

The students were then encouraged to involve governance of the faculty. This led to the inclusion of the Sustainability Committee, who proposed a divestment resolution garnering full faculty support in its November 2016 meeting.

 Fifth-year environmental contracting major Billie Golan explained that the process of gaining the support of the Board was lengthy.

“First, we created a Divestment Resolution that called for the SUNY Foundation’s divestment from direct investments in fossil fuel industries, then we made an appointment with the President to present it to him and we had a script and everything, ready to prove our point,” she said. “President Christian was more concerned about the scholarships that the Foundation supports and to remain ‘fiscally responsive;’ we had done our research though, and only a fraction of the money that the Foundation invests in is in fossil fuels.”

 With the support of SUNY New Paltz President Donald P. Christian, both Marks and Golan claimed that the significance of the concern became evident and inspired those also involved on the Board.

“We were confident that after he talked to the board, they’d be in favor,” Golan said. “He said that he himself was in favor of divestment.”

Marks confirmed that Christian’s leadership and support for the idea of divestment was the deciding factor.

In an email sent out to the university, Christian himself explains the diligence placed behind making the decision.

“Under the thoughtful leadership of alumnus and Foundation Board Treasurer, Leonard Boccia ’89 (Finance and Marketing), the Foundation’s Finance and Investment Committee gave careful consideration to this complex issue during the past year at each of its quarterly meetings,” he wrote. “At its August 2017 meeting, the committee recommended to the full Foundation Board that it divest from direct investments in fossil fuels.”

Christian’s support was further addressed when he explained that climate change resulting from use of fossil fuels presents issues of significant concern to all, including the faculty, students, staff, alumni and supporters of SUNY New Paltz.

“This divestment from fossil fuels is the right thing to do,” he wrote.

Golan expressed that while things are heading in the right direction, divestment is not the last step.

“For one, divestment is only a part of the battle, next comes reinvestment into renewable energies. Professor Michael Sheridan of the Business office tells us that renewable energies have more financial kick-back than fossil fuel industries, which are volatile,” she says. “There needs to be more money allocated into green business and sustainable technologies for sure.” 

According to Golan, their work isn’t finished.

“We are following up with that now and making sure it’s a priority with the Foundation,” she explains. “Personally, I am trying to share a ‘Divestment Toolkit’ I created as a Google doc with sustainability students throughout the SUNY system so that we can help other campuses with their effort and create a divestment domino effect.”