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Chicago Maroon

The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

UChicago Alumni Pledge to Withhold Donations Unless Endowment Eliminates Fossil Fuel Investments

The group of over 100 alumni, led by UChicago for Climate Action, called on the University to join other schools in eliminating fossil fuels from their endowment.
Naina Purushothaman
Students calling for the University to divest its endowment from fossil fuels at “Divestival” on April 21, 2023.

A group of more than 100 UChicago alumni have pledged to withhold donations to the University unless it eliminates fossil fuel investment from the endowment.

The group, which describes itself as being led by UChicago for Climate Action, emphasized that many of UChicago’s peer universities have committed to divestment.

“If the University of Chicago wants to truly be a peer of Ivy League institutions, the Board should approve this change and join the majority of the Ivies, like Brown, Cornell, Columbia, Dartmouth, Harvard, and Princeton, in working to divest from or substantially reduce investment in fossil fuels,” Katharine Bierce (A.B. ’10), co-founder of UChicago for Climate Action, said.

In an interview with the Maroon, Michael Hendrix, another co-founder, discussed the pledge’s potential effects on UChicago’s rankings.

Hendrix explained that, even if major donors declined to participate in withholding donations, overall alumni engagement is factored into college rankings, saying, “Insofar as the University might care about that participation rate, we’re hoping that they take notice [of] the messages they get from engaged alumni.”

Hendrix also called on the University to be more transparent in its investment practices.

“It’s hard to have an honest debate about this, because [the University] is not willing to share more information,” Hendrix said. “Current students have a stake in this. Future students have a stake in this. So I think first off the University is in a position where it can and probably should share more information about how it’s investing.”

Hendrix said that there is also a financial case for divesting from fossil fuels.

“I think you’ll always find people advocating for turning a quick profit,” he said. “And they might point to fossil fuels as a way to do that. I also think that, every year that passes, you see stronger and stronger evidence that investing in fossil fuel companies is not good for long- and medium-term, and sometimes even short-term, businesses.”

In a statement to the Maroon, the University said divestment was against its policy of abstaining from taking political or social stances, as articulated in the Kalven Report.

“Over more than a century, through a great deal of vigorous debate, the University has developed a consensus against taking social or political stances on issues outside its core mission,” a University spokesperson said. “The University’s longstanding position is that doing this through investments or other means would only diminish the University’s distinctive contribution — providing a home for faculty and students to espouse and challenge the widest range of social practices and beliefs.”

The University said its investment team performs “due diligence to ensure that the funds in which it invests and their managers have no history of illegal behavior and have a strong track record of meeting the professional norms of their business.”

The University also said it would continue its efforts to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

“The University continues to focus on reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to meet the goal set in 2020 of a 50% reduction in emissions by 2030, by procuring renewable energy and implementing energy conservation projects,” the spokesperson said. “UChicago was recently named by the U.S. EPA as a 2024 ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year for Sustained Excellence in energy management.”

The move comes after a rally organized by Divest UChicago in April 2023 where students made similar calls for the University to increase transparency around its endowment and divest from fossil fuels.

In 2023, the student organization UChicago Environmental Justice Task Force filed a complaint with the Illinois attorney general against the University of Chicago Board of Trustees for their investment in fossil fuel enterprises. Bierce said that the action was an inspiration. 

“We’re really building on the work that the students have done with the new complaint and wanted to continue that momentum,” she said.

Editor’s note, April 22, 2024, 5:34 p.m.: This article has been updated to include a statement from the University.

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About the Contributors
Oliver Buntin
Oliver Buntin, Senior News Reporter
Oliver Buntin is a first-year student from Washington, D.C. studying public policy and Roman literature at the College. Oliver’s passion for journalism was first ignited when he heard that there would be free food at The Maroon’s informational session. Since then, he’s gone on to write a number of pieces on his way to becoming a senior reporter, with a special interest in Chicago politics and mass transit. In his free time, you can find Oliver on the train or reading a book.
Naina Purushothaman, Senior News Reporter
Naina is a senior reporter with The Maroon.
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    Bob Michaelson / Apr 22, 2024 at 6:08 pm

    “In a statement to the Maroon, the University said divestment was against its policy of abstaining from taking political or social stances, as articulated in the Kalven Report.”
    Once again the University trots out their claim that they must abstain from political or social stances, since they adhere to the Kalven Report. Forgotten is that in 2008, when Ann Marie Lipinski, former editor of the Trib, was appointed to the newly created position of Vice President for Civic Engagement, one of her explicit duties was to lobby for the City of Chicago’s bid (actually, Richie Daley’s bid) for Chicago to host the 2016 Summer Olympics. Forgotten is that in the 1980s the UofC lobbied for the Superconducting Supercollider – both for its funding and for it to be sited at Fermilab, although many distinguished physicists, including Albert Libchaber, then on the UofC faculty, strongly opposed that project. Forgotten is that the Kalven Report specifically notes that the UofC “is a community but only for the limited, albeit great, purposes of teaching and research. It is not a club, it is not a trade association, it is not a lobby.” Ignored is that the UofC annually spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on lobbying, as one may discover at Open Secrets, which tells us that in 2023, for example, the UofC spent $300,281 on lobbying.
    Clearly, the UofC administration invokes the alleged inviolability of the Kalven Report only when it is convenient for them to do so.
    Clearly, whenever the UofC administration invokes the Kalven Report their statement should be ignored, since it is almost certainly nonsense.