by Aggie Agreros
On Thursday, March 28, UF student organizers, including myself, learned that our fight to hold the university up to its stated ideals had made an extraordinary breakthrough.
In a meeting between Divest UF, a loose collective of students, faculty, alumni, and community members organizing to financially disentangle UF from toxic industries, and the University of Florida Investment Corporation (UFICO), the University agreed to dramatically change their investment strategy by passing an ESG Policy to which they will hold their fund managers accountable.
This monumental decision provides the framework for making UF’s investments socially and environmentally responsible. Such a move is the first step toward divesting UF’s endowment from fossil fuels, private prisons, and other human rights violations.
“While we applaud UFICO and the University of Florida for this major step we need more transparency and accountability on these investments” said JoJo Sacks, Divest UF organizer and UF senior. “We need to know how and when UF will end their active investments and contracts with passive investment managers who do not meet our Environment, Social, and Corporate Governance Policy.”
This news broke during the middle of Divest UF Heat Week, a week of action dedicated to demanding that the university divest from fossil fuels. Actions included a letter drop-off at President Fuchs’ office, placing banners around campus, and a viral video outlining UF’s history of inaction around social issues and student organizing. Heat Week culminated outside of the Board of Trustees meeting with students and community members rallying in support of fossil fuel divestment.
The group later moved inside to speak at the meeting in front of the Board, President Fuchs and William Reeser, Chief Investment Officer of UF Investment Corporation. Speakers made the argument for divestment and made clear that while we are grateful for the positive steps being taken, we will continue to hold the university accountable for following through with divestment within an urgent timeframe.
The speeches were concluded with the chairman of the BOT, Mori Hosseini, replying “Thank you for exercising your freedom of speech.”
Our demands are not radical. We are simply asking UF administrators to uphold the mission statement they have already committed to advancing. A mission statement does not mean much if it is not backed up by actions. Our demands are not even unprecedented.
Over one thousand institutions and governmental bodies, including the state of New York, the entire country of Ireland and one hundred and fifty public and private universities across world have realized and acted in accordance with the moral imperative of fossil fuel divestment. The total size of portfolios and endowments affected by the global divestment campaign has reached a staggering $8 trillion dollars. In other words, divestment campaigns like ours at UF have dealt a multi-trillion dollar blow to the most toxic and dangerous industry on the planet.
Still, UF would be the first in the SEC to divest and with the wide-reaching influence that comes with being a top ten public university, UF’s decision paves the path for other universities to follow in its footsteps.
With a successful Heat Week behind us, more momentum than we’ve ever had, and a growing membership base committed to holding UF accountable, the future looks bright for Divest UF. In a few months alone, our movement has grown from a few core members and some petition signatures, to a force to be reckoned with. The work continues tomorrow.
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