Last night was the Endowment 101 Forum in Chapman hall. Chancellor Thorp and three other representatives held an open conference and lecture with students about what the endowment it, what it pays for, and how it is invested. While these individuals were more than happy to let students know what endowment money is used for, they were more reluctant to let students and various reporters know how that money is invested. But let’s start with a recap of what we learned at this endowment conference, from various powerpoint slides that the administration kindly put together for us.
“What are endowment funds?
-restricted gifts received from donors
-principal not expendable
-invested in perpetuity with an annual spending distribution to support the designated program”
This fund is a whopping 2.14 billion dollars. The 29th highest amount amongst all universities, and the 7th amongst public universities. This money received from donors to the school is invested in various stocks and bonds in different companies in order to earn income off of it. That income is then given to the programs which the donors are aiming to benefit. The overall objective which the panel repeated without fail is to preserve the real purchasing power of the endowment fund. Here’s the kicker though, with all this investing going on, the administration has found it too difficult to manage their stocks by themselves. They’ve hired UNC Management Company and over 100 different management firms to do this for them. This means, according to them, that “90% of the investment fund’s assets are invested in commingled funds”. They also stated that they have no control over this 90% once it is given to the management companies.
So what does this mean? It means that people managing the portfolio at UNC have no control over where 90% of their money is going, or what companies it is supporting. The question began being raised by the audience over what this means we’re investing in. Are our investments socially responsible? Are these management companies screening their investments to ensure this? The answer was a blatant no. The panel made it clear that their only objective in investing these funds was to ensure their purchasing power in the market place. Therefore, they made it blatantly clear that money mattered more to them than their conscious, or what is morally right. They, of course, could not outline exactly which companies they invest in, and how many investments they have in each, arguing that this would be a breach of confidentiality agreements and that “no large university endowments are that transparent”.
When asked whether there are any restrictions on investments, the panel only seemed concerned again about making money, and preventing scandal. It was stated that “we’re not gonna do things that are gonna be irresponsible”; what, like investing in the fossil fuel industry, ruining the planet, causing immense health problems? No, they certainly contribute that. Chancellor Thorp even openly stated this, saying that he did not want to hide this fact from students. The Chancellor did state that “climate change is real and is caused by humans”, but then looked entirely hypocritical when he gave no interest to environmental ideas and solutions. When asked about divestment to solve this problem, the room was tense. The panel seemed unable, if not simply unwilling to make the effort to divest. They stated that “we would have to divest the whole endowment” and that the circumstances for divestment would have to “be pretty extraordinary. Divestment campaigns were called “hypocritical” in this light. On this sour note, the question was presented “Is there a possibility to have student input when money gets invested then?”. The answer to this was the most belittling and frustrating of the evening as Chancellor Thorp said: “We don’t need a student getting yelled at” if our investments don’t make money; “that’s not a good idea”. The only solution the panel seemed to be able to even comprehend was one of investing in more clean energy, but keeping our investments in the fossil fuel industry.
In short, the entire Beyond Coal campaign was spit on by the administration last night. Questions about divestment were wholly shot down. The administration had mixed comments on student involvement, stating that they wanted no student input, and then later stating that “we need to get together and figure out a way to move forward”. They seemed entirely uninterested in the socially responsible nature of their investments, and seemed to belittle the students who showed such earnest enthusiasm to the issue. Chancellor Thorp seemed to think he had given into enough student campaigns to effect change, and that he didn’t need to yield any more than he had. Everyone in the room, bar the panel, seemed to want to continue the conversation, and seemed upset and frustrated with the information presented to them in the endowment forum. The administration doesn’t want to effect change because they are making too much money, and it is easier for them to continue in socially harmful and irresponsible ways than to do something about it. We cannot truly call ourselves a sustainable and environmentally conscious university when we invest millions of dollars in an energy source that is destroying the planet, and our children’s futures. We will not stop our campaign in response to this. I think this was one of the administration’s aims. If anything, we are more fired up than ever. We will simply have to get more creative. As Jasmine Ruddy said last night, “Time to push the envelope”.
The Board of Trustees meeting on September 27th was a resounding success for the Sierra Student Coalition. About twenty members attended the meeting, and our yellow-clad presence at the Carolina Inn was impossible to ignore. Tait’s muffin-baking skills definitely contributed to our huge turnout, and it was amazing to see so much dedication and commitment at 8 in the morning.
We want to thank the amazing Dan Cannon, Greenpeace Student Network Coordinator, who visited on Tuesday and Wednesday to help us focus our objectives. Our strategic planning paid off, and we accomplished all four of our key goals:
1. I’ve already mentioned it, but it bears repeating: we had a huge turnout. Thanks to everyone who was able to come—your presence makes the difference.
2. Board of Trustees member Sallie Shuping Russell acknowledged the presence and power of the Beyond Coal Campaign. We appreciate her support, and are excited to cultivate a relationship with her as an ally.
3. On that note, we are in the process of setting up meetings with Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Winston Crisp, Budget Committee Chair Sallie Shuping Russell, and Vice Chancellor for Finance Karol Gray.
4. Finally, Chancellor Thorp confirmed that a forum on the endowment will be held this semester. In fact, it’s going to be on Monday, October 29th. After six months with no timeline, this is a huge victory for everyone who wants to see the University invest more responsibly and sustainably.
This is an exciting victory and we’re going to keep moving forward with new enthusiasm.
Just a quick update on some things we have done at UNC to kick some coal ash this past week:
Hosting a Student Body President Forum on Sustainability – ‘Beyond Coal ditches the hippie garb and wears a tie’
We hosted an open forum for our Student Body President candidates on Monday, Feb. 13. All three of the SBP candidates made an appearance to give us their pitch and field questions from leaders of different environmental organizations on campus. The questions were pointed, direct, and mostly from “Beyond Coal” members. Students asked questions about local transit initiatives, the renewal of UNC’s student green fee, and support for UNC’s new $500,000 Green Revolving Fund. But the majority of the discussion centered on UNC’s endowment, a testament to the fact that the Sierra Student Coalition has made UNC’s investment practices the #1 environmental issue on campus. Afterwards we released an endorsement to a reporter from the campus newspaper, outlining which candidate we felt most embodied our campaign’s ideals and supported our goals. Here’s an excerpt from The Daily Tar Heel article:
“The Sierra Student Coalition endorsed [Will] Leimenstoll after its forum Monday night.
Katie Orndahl, media coordinator for the group, said Leimenstoll had a strong environmental background and that a lot of his values align with the group’s campaign.
Orndahl added that the group almost chose [Tim] Longest because of his emphasis on transparency within the University, such as with the endowment.”
We succeeded in getting all three SBP hopefuls to say publicly that they question the University’s investment policy and, if elected, will take steps to increase the transparency and social, ethical and environmental responsibility of our investments. As the campaign’s coalitions coordinator Stewart Boss pointed out this week in a Letter to the Editor in the campus newspaper, SBPs have often chosen to highlight the endowment in their platforms without following through during their term.
UNC has an institutional mission “of leading change to improve society and to help solve the world’s greatest problems.” UNC’s investments cannot continue to be the exception to that rule, and — regardless of Tuesday’s winner — future student body presidents should commit to addressing these endowment issues.
Now that we have all the candidates on record supporting efforts to seriously address these issues, we can hold them accountable in the year ahead. The candidate that we endorsed, Will Leimenstoll, took the lead in the race to become UNC’s next Student Body President on Tuesday night with 47% of the vote – 20% more than either of the other candidates. He now moves on to the runoff election as the clear frontrunner.
“Beyond Coal” Open-Mic Poetry Night Event with UNC Wordsmiths – Beyond Coal gets in touch with its sensitive side
The Sierra Student Coalition partnered with one of the best poetry groups on campus, UNC Wordsmiths, to co-host an Open-Mic Poetry Night at the Bull’s Head Bookshop on Wednesday, Feb. 15. There was free coffee from the Daily Grind, plus lots of snapping, coal-dissing, and poetry-spitting. We hung our banner behind the poets to help get our message out, and we gave away some bright yellow Beyond Coal T-shirts and SSC buttons to any poet that volunteered to perform. I served as the MC for the evening, and I was able to tell some jokes, put out some hard facts about dirty coal, and perform some coal-themed haikus for the crowd in between acts. For your reading pleasure, here’s a sampling:
Coal, a dirty fuel
Without it, we could prosper
But, there’s cash involved
Coal and Poetry
Two words that don’t really rhyme
Good, it’s a Haiku
Once a cold fire gem
Now fired hot to make steam
Dirty, two-faced coal
It was a wildly successful event that gave our coal divestment campaign the opportunity to reach a portion of the student body that we don’t get to interact with often enough. Moving UNC beyond coal is not just about protests and rallies and organizing, it’s also about creativity and culture and creating a broader social movement to shift us away from dirty energy.
If only a haiku could save the world…
Next week, we’ve got an event planned with Appalachian Voices to talk about their new “Red, White & Water” campaign to highlight recent attacks on the federal Clean Water Act and the different ways that mining, burning, and disposing of dirty coal threatens our water supply. North Carolina is home to 12 high hazard coal ash ponds (more than any other state), and North Carolina regulators announced last month that the groundwater at all 14 of our state’s coal-fired power plants run by Duke Energy and Progress Energy contains higher than normal levels of heavy metals.
10:50 AM on October 18th the Sierra Student Coalition launched its first major event for its “Beyond Coal” Campaign: a rally that promoted their cause and raised awareness by seeking support and interaction from passing students. Participants approached the Wilson Library steps and moved replica bags of money from the “dirty coal investment” side to the “clean energy investment” side, represented by a giant replica coal plant and replica windmills, respectively. The interactive nature of the event helped students understand the basic idea of the campaign’s main goal: the transition from investment in coal companies to investment in cleaner, more responsible energies. Students also had the opportunity to participate in photo petitions that will be included with other petitions and handwritten letters and delivered to Chancellor Thorp at an upcoming meeting between the Chancellor and the Sierra Student Coalition. Energetic students stayed and chanted and the crowd of clean energy advocates made clear their increased support for this cause. The event was a brilliant effort on the part of the Beyond Coal campaign to reach out and show the student body what we’re all about.
Ever since the Chancellor’s promise to cease the use of coal energy at the university, the Sierra Student Coalition has been thrilled about their start to a coal free UNC. Now Beyond Coal seeks to finish the job, and the rally was just the first step in doing so. The second phase of the “Beyond Coal” campaign aims to officially remove UNC and all of its ties to dirty coal energy. The University still has a $2 billion endowment that is partly invested in coal companies that contribute to the dirty and dangerous coal mining and burning. The Sierra Student Coalition hopes to negotiate with the heads of the school and management company and come to an accord that not only makes its investments transparent but also divests its holdings in coal energy companies. Though this will take a lot of work, the success of the rally highlights the support the group has garnered on campus: an essential asset to the campaign. As a well respected university, UNC’s student body has a huge potential to have a large impact and push the school to be more environmentally responsible simply by coming out and expressing their support.
“I’m really excited about all the energy and motivation of this organization,” freshman Jasmine Ruddy said. “I’ve seen a lot of organizations that express a lot of good ideas, but don’t go anywhere with them. The Sierra Student Coalition is one of the most motivated groups on campus; it’s all about action and getting things done.”
Recent articles by the Associated Press and Rolling Stone Magazine have presented the realities of the declining coal industry. The national scope of these articles and the hard facts they presented reinforced the importance of moving away from risky financial investments in coal and added a new level of urgency to the UNC Beyond Coal Divestment campaign.
The campaign has taken this national recognition and used it as inspiration as it moves forward.
At a recent general body meeting, the group members in attendance participated in a hand written letter drive in order to emphasize the real, human impacts of the destructive coal industry. The students relayed their personal experiences with coal or reasons for getting involved with the Beyond Coal campaign in letters that will be delivered to the Chancellor at the upcoming meeting between the Chancellor and the Beyond Coal group.
Also upcoming are a number of other events that will continue to raise the profile of the divestment issue over the next few months. In November, Beyond Coal is planning to sponsor a panel of experts on green investing. By raising awareness and building a broad alliance of supporters, the SSC hopes to show the school that if we are ready to stop burning coal on campus, we should make certain that we are not funding the coal industry either.
100 Actions participants hold signs proclaiming their support of clean energy investments
Wednesday afternoon in the pouring rain UNC Beyond Coal supporters gathered on the steps of the Ackland Art Museum to rally in front the Board of Trustees as they walked to dinner. The students called on the university to stop funding the coal industry and divest the UNC endowment from coal company holdings. Students held signs proclaiming the negative effects of coal and chanted in support of a responsible endowment.
Several activists inspired the ralliers by sharing their personal stories about the coal industry and explaining that the campaign to move beyond coal to clean energy is among the most important causes on campus and in the country. Stewart Boss, UNC Sierra Student Coalition Co-Chair, read a copy of the letter that he later delivered to several trustees and the chancellor, and despite the pouring rain the rally was certainly a success. “Even if there is a hurricane coming we’ll be here to ask the trustees for their support to move the endowment out of coal,” said Sierra Student Coalition organizer Harry Alper, summing up the dedication of the attending students.
The Trustees were impressed as well – board member John Ellison remarked, “Y’all are mighty hearty and you believe in your campaign.”
An op-ed piece by The Daily Tar Heel‘s environmental columnist, Holly Beilin, ran in yesterday’s paper and provided a strong endorsement of the Sierra Student Coalition’s coal divestment campaign strategy. Beilin wrote, “If UNC wants to remain “a national leader in sustainability in American higher education,” as the chancellor said in May of 2010, it’s important to reveal the endowment’s energy holdings and, if necessary, divest in companies that aren’t so green.”
You can read the full piece here.
Not so green, after all
By Holly Beilin | The Daily Tar Heel
The past decade has watched the University put together quite the environmental resume. And, with Chancellor Holden Thorp’s commitment last year to end the University’s use of coal by 2020, there’s plenty of reason to think that resume will only grow greener with time.
But the group that pushed for Thorp’s commitment, the Sierra Club’s Coal-Free Campus campaign, wants more. It wants theUNC Management Company, the body that invests the University’s nearly $2 billion endowment, to make its holdings transparent.
They say that’s the only way UNC can be sure it isn’t investing in companies that haven’t made the same coal-free commitment. And they’re right.
The Management Company’s quarterly investment update from March showed a target of 7 to 8 percent of assets in energy and commodities.
Stewart Boss, co-chairman of the UNC Sierra Student Coalition, said considering about half of the electricity in the U.S. is provided by coal, at least a portion of this money is likely going into the very industry UNC was so proud to turn its back on.
If the coalition’s fears prove true, it would mean that UNC is still a contributor to the overall problem. After all, the nature of pollution is its non-excludability.
Coal burned one, or 10, or even 24 hours away sends just as much carbon dioxide into the environment as coal burned right here on campus.
If UNC wants to remain “a national leader in sustainability in American higher education,” as the chancellor said in May of 2010, it’s important to reveal the endowment’s energy holdings and, if necessary, divest in companies that aren’t so green.
The University has made countless steps toward becoming green so far. The Climate Action Plan, energy conservation projects and renovations to Morrison Residence Hall — which won the EPA’s first annual Energy Star National Building Competition in 2010 — all point to the University’s environmentally progressive direction.
But the University’s campus is not a bubble. It needs to understand its sphere of responsibility. The endowment money should be invested in companies that share the same strong environmental morality as the students and faculty of UNC.
Holly Beilin is a sophomore global studies major from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Contact her at email@example.com
Published September 11, 2011 in Opinion
Join UNC Sierra Student Coalition volunteers on campus to watch the movie “Dirty Business” on Wednesday, September 14th at 7 pm in Peabody 218.
RSVP for the event on Facebook.
Coal is one of the greatest threats to public health in our country. Everywhere it is mined, burned, or disposed of it makes people sick. Two years ago, the Sierra Student Coalition won a campaign to stop burning coal on campus at UNC by 2020. But UNC is still funding coal companies through our endowment. So we’ve launched a campaign to move our endowment money out of the coal industry, and reinvest it in clean, renewable energy.
Bring a friend and join other Sierra Student Coalition volunteers for a movie night to learn more about the coal industry, and get involved in our coal divestment campaign.
Questions: Contact Harry Alper at firstname.lastname@example.org
Check out the movie, Dirty Business, at www.dirtybusinessthefilm.com