University of Dayton divests largest endowment yet from fossil fuel companies

Source: Elspeth Dehnert, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The University of Dayton announced yesterday that it plans to divest its $670 million investment pool from fossil fuels, making it the wealthiest higher-education institution and first Catholic university in the nation to do so.

It is a move that fossil fuel divestment groups are hailing as a symbolic victory in the fight against climate change and also one that some in the Catholic community are calling part of a faith-based duty to take care of the environment.

“I think this is really a mission-driven thing,” said the Rev. Martin Solma, provincial for the Marianist Province of the United States and a member of the university board’s investment committee. “It comes out of our religious belief and what we think we have been entrusted with.”

“And if what the scientists are telling us — if the temperature goes up 2 degrees Celsius — we’re in real trouble,” he added.

The private Marianist university said in a statement that it will divest its funds in phases, initially removing fossil fuel assets from its domestic equity accounts before eliminating them from international holdings. It added that it will develop plans to invest in sustainable and “green” technologies and refrain from investing in private equity or hedge funds that have investments connected to carbon-producing holdings.

While critics of the fossil fuel divestment movement say that dropping funds from oil and gas companies is a financial risk, many individuals affiliated with the university, including Solma, believe doing so will not harm the school’s finances.

“We considered many factors, and our unbiased review concluded we could structure a prudent U.S. equity portfolio divested from Carbon Tracker 200 stocks,” said Matt Porter, director of research analytics with DiMeo Schneider & Associates, who advised the board of trustees on investment risks associated with divesting, in a statement. “We believe the restructures portfolio meets the university’s objectives and is consistent with its long-term risk and return mandates.”

Following in the pope’s green footsteps

The University of Dayton joins a pool of religious communities and establishments that have participated in the divestment movement. According to the Go Fossil Free divestment campaign, more than 30 religious institutions have committed to withdrawing their funds from oil and gas companies.

Earlier this year, religious groups urged Pope Francis to support the movement after retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu called for an anti-apartheid-style boycott of the fossil fuel industry (ClimateWire, April 21). It was an appeal made in the wake of the Catholic leader’s public plea for environmental conservation and protection (ClimateWire, June 19, 2013).

“Our current holy father has said that this is an important issue for us,” Solma said. “We’re not trying to vilify anybody or castigate anybody … but it’s a challenge for us to take seriously our climate and to take seriously our stewardship of creation.”

“I hope it will spur others to come to their welfare decisions as they think best for their institutions,” he added.