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Fossil Free UB students honored at third annual shared governance day

Students awarded for divestment work, more reports on UBF's fracking investments

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Students of Fossil Free UB were awarded Tuesday for their commitment to working with faculty and administrators across the university throughout their divestment campaign.

For the last two years, the student-led group has pressured the university and specifically the UB Foundation to divest all fossil-fuel related holdings to live up to UB’s sustainability goals. Last spring, the Student Association, Graduate Student Association and Faculty Senate passed a resolution presented by students from Fossil Free, calling on the foundation to divest all funds from fossil fuels.

UBF is a private nonprofit that manages the university’s $1 billion endowment. It is the largest foundation in the SUNY system. Last fall, leaked documents revealed the foundation invested in an off-shore firm that funds fracking, a practice of extracting oil banned in New York State because of its hazard to the environment.

On Monday, a local watchdog group reported the foundation had invested in at least five other fracking-focused private equity funds.

Alexa Ringer, a sophomore environmental design major, accepted the award alongside a few other group members. Ringer said she was grateful for the opportunity to work with Faculty Senate Chair Phil Glick, other administrators and foundation executives. She said faculty members should email the foundation officials and ask them to divest.

The recognition is encouraging, but the latest reports of UBF’s investments in fossil-fuel related activities are proof the group’s work is not done, Ringer said in an email.

Ed Schneider, executive director for UBF, has not publicly agreed to divest, but said he and other foundation officials are listening and trying to learn more about the issues in order to form a public position. Last month, Schneider attended a workshop held by Fossil Free UB, where a financial adviser discussed ways to invest in “socially conscious” industries.

Schneider told The Spectrum divestment is “not that simple and even [Fossil Free students] know it’s not that simple.”

Climate change activists have increasingly targeted institutions like universities with major endowments in their divestment campaigns. They have also gone after pension funds, banks and other major capital investors to some avail. Last December, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced he would look into divesting New York state pension funds from fossil fuel-related holdings.

Several colleges and universities have promised to divest from climate-change related industries, including Stanford University and University of Dayton.

Anthony DeFeo, a junior film studies major and member of UB Fossil Free, said he is “very proud” to receive recognition for the group’s efforts.

“Members of Fossil Free UB have gone door-to-door, in-person, to rally support from all corners of the university. That’s what it takes for a movement like ours, which started out small, to achieve success: in-person relations that span levels of governance,” DeFeo said.

The award was presented as part of UB’s third-annual shared governance day, which celebrates collaboration between the five pillars of the institution: faculty, administrators, staff, students and councils.

Sarah Crowley is the senior news editor and can be reached at sarah.crowley@ubspectrum.com and Twitter at @crowleyspectrum.


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