Chapman University will not divest its $279 million in endowments and pension funds from the fossil fuel industry despite the global cry for immediate climate change. Although other major universities in the University of California (UC) system are beginning to divest, Chapman remains adamant in their decision for financial and “realistic” purposes.
The decision — which was made by Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Harold Hewitt in 2016— capped the yearlong campaign by the club Fossil Free Chapman, who argued the university had a responsibility to address climate change.
Fossil Free Chapman, a student-led organization, disappeared from the campus after its petition was rejected by Hewitt in May 2016. Since the disappearance of the group, the university has not been pressured to change their decision. No other movements have been created to push for a fossil-free campus.
Mackenzie Crigger, energy and sustainability manager at Chapman, disclosed that the decision was motivated by financial gains and practicality.
“Hewitt told [Fossil Free Chapman] that it would not be realistic for Chapman to divest so much money. The money that is invested in fossil fuel companies benefits the university immensely. The group learned that it isn’t financially possible for the time being” Crigger said.
While she expressed her concern for the current climate crisis, she would not reveal which fossil fuel companies Chapman is currently investing in.
Clayton Heard, the founder of Fossil Free Chapman, campaigned from Aug. 2015 until May 2016 for the university to completely divest from direct ownership of any commingled funds that included fossil fuels, public equities, and corporate bonds. His campaign involved workshops and rallies but immediately ended once the petition was denied.
Although the petition was denied three years ago, Chapman and Fossil Free Chapman did not publicly announce the final decision. With Fossil Free Chapman vanishing from campus, the student body was left without an answer.
According to the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, fossil fuels are the largest factor contributing to global warming. Companies such as ExxonMobil, Shell, and Chevron are considered to be the highest contributors to the climate crisis. While these companies are leading factors to climate change, every fossil fuel industry is contributing to the climate crisis — companies Chapman is investing in.
While the movement to end fossil fuel consumption ended at Chapman, other schools such as Yale University, Stanford University, and Barnard College have begun the process of divesting their endowments from fossil fuel companies. The UC system will no longer hold any stakes in companies involved with extracting fossil fuels. It will divest $70 billion pension funds and $13.4 billion endowments.
The movement to divest endowments in the fossil fuel industry is traditionally motivated by the climate crisis, but the UC’s are divesting for financial reasons.
“We believe hanging on to fossil fuel assets is a financial risk,” wrote Jagdeep Singh Bachher, the UC’s chief investment officer, and Richard Sherman, chair of the UC Board of Regents’ Investments Committee, for the Los Angeles Times.
Both Chapman and the UC system have similar motivations, but different outcomes.
The divestment from fossil fuel companies is a major victory for sustainability clubs at the UC’s. Clubs such as the Renewable Energy Association and Sustainability Action Research at the University of California, Los Angeles have campaigned for several years for a renewable energy campus and are using this victory to further advocate their beliefs.
Meanwhile, at Chapman, there are no clubs or movements to push for a fossil-free campus. Other sustainability clubs such as Net Zero Chapman “do not have any figures of the discussion on fossil fuel consumption.”
Although Chapman has remained quiet on the topic of fossil fuel consumption, students continue to express their concern about the university’s decision to invest in fossil fuel companies.
“The decision to not divest is a complete hypocrisy of the school because although we have the sustainability department and other clubs who advocate for climate change, they still refuse to sacrifice their earnings during this environmental crisis,” said junior political science major Dylan Derakshanian.