College is pressured to divest

While Allegheny College has committed itself to having a carbon-neutral campus by the year 2020, several students have raised concerns about the college’s investments in fossil fuels and related stocks. Divest Allegheny, an unofficial school organization, is striving to convince Allegheny College to end its investments in these stocks.

“Investors have a responsibility to act according to their organization’s mission,” said David Belfiglio, ’16, who is leading the movement to divest. “Allegheny’s promotional materials and advertisements talk about being a green, socially responsible school.”

Director of Sustainability and Environmental Affairs for Allegheny Student Government Levi Lundell, ’17, agreed.

“As a green school, any and all of our investments should be in green initiatives,” said Lundell.

Currently, approximately 7 percent of Allegheny’s endowment is invested in fossil fuels and fossil fuel-related stocks, according to Sue Stuebner, Allegheny’s executive vice president and chief operating officer. With an endowment of approximately $162 million, according to the college’s website, Allegheny invests around $11 million in these stocks.

Fossil fuels are not the first stock from which students have petitioned Allegheny to divest. Students led a movement in the 1980s that convinced the college to divest from South African companies during the apartheid, according to Belfiglio.

Stuebner said there are some differences between the movements to divest from South African and fossil fuel-related companies.

“We didn’t have as much exposure to the companies,” said Stuebner. “We’re in commingled [fossil fuel-related] funds, so it’s not as simple as divesting from a certain stock. You have to completely remove yourself from that fund.”

Regardless of how complex divestment may be, students remain hopeful the school will eventually stop investing in these stocks.

“The issue isn’t if divestment will happen, it’s when,” said Lundell.

Although many students believe the college will divest from fossil fuels, there remain roadblocks in the process. Administrators have concerns as to the economic ramifications of divestment.

“The college looked at it about 18 months ago,” said Stuebner. “At that point, in order to divest, we would need to liquidate [sell off] about 75 percent of our portfolio.”

Proponents of the divestment movement have pointed to several colleges that have successfully divested from fossil fuels as examples for how Allegheny can fulfill the divestment goal without this level of economic detriment.

Stuebner explained that many schools that divested from stocks in fossil fuels and have reinvested those funds into utility companies, which also have an environmental impact.

“There was a recent study supporting divestment that talked about schools that had divested from fossil fuels,” said Stuebner. “But what that study didn’t highlight is that those schools actually reinvested in utilities.”

While economic challenges stall the divestment movement, students and administrators are working together to ensure Allegheny can accomplish this goal in a financially viable manner.

“Administration does push for what the students want, and it is an active effort [to divest],” said Lundell.

Allegheny College’s investors understand the movement and have had conversations about it, said Stuebner.

“The board takes their commitment to sustainability very seriously,” she said. “They also take their fiduciary responsibility very seriously. There’s a lot of layers to this.”