UB Foundation Executive Director attends student-held divestment workshop

Ed Schneider attends Fossil Free UB's divestment workshop led by JD Hartman

divestment

Ed Schneider, executive director of the UB Foundation, sat in Clemens 109 alongside some of his fiercest student-critics on Monday, Feb. 12.

Together, Schneider and roughly 20 students listened as local financial adviser JD Hartman led a one and a half hour long workshop meant to instruct its attendees on how to divest from unethical sources and reinvest sustainably. The workshop, organized by the student-run group Fossil Free UB, discussed various ways to invest sustainably and seize opportunities to “divest” from fossil fuel industries.

The UB Foundation, a private nonprofit that controls the university’s $1 billion endowment, faced harsh criticism last November after leaked reports showed it had invested in an offshore firm that funds fracking.

Fracking is used to extract oil and gas from subterranean rocks, has been banned in New York State due to environmental concerns. Many students and community members felt this investment was at odds with the university’s sustainability claims. Fossil Free UB members were some of the loudest critics, promising to continue to encourage UB to divest from fossil fuel industries.

However, members said in order to achieve their goal, they must work together with officials like Schneider. Students said they felt “encouraged” by his attendance Monday.

Alexa Ringer, sophomore environmental design major and member of Fossil Free UB, said she appreciated Schneider going out of his way and coming to the workshop.

“He’s more open than other school officials in the sense that he’s willing to hear us out and sit down and talk to us like he did last semester,” Ringer said. “We wanted to show him and the foundation that we want them to know that we’re learning about [divestment], and we want them to learn about it too.”

David Goldberg, junior political science and environmental studies major and member of Fossil Free UB, said the relationship between Fossil Free UB and members of the foundation has improved.

“In the past, [Schneider] has been a little disconnected, but now he is starting to listen to us and we welcome that,” Goldberg said. “We want to ultimately work with him and complete our goal.”

Schneider shifted in his chair throughout the meeting and seemed uncomfortable when Hartman called out the UB Foundation by name. But Hartman did not single out the foundation. Most people and businesses are not good at “aligning their capital with their values,” he said.

In Hartman’s opinion, divestment requires embracing change, and some are not willing to put in the time to find socially responsible investments.

“It’s not just the UBF. It’s not just the NYS pension plan. This is everybody,” Hartman said.

Unlike the university, the foundation is a private entity not subject to open government laws –– despite recent efforts in court to change this –– and therefore is not required to reveal the allocation of the assets it manages from UB donations.

Last spring, the Faculty Senate passed a resolution calling for the foundation to divest funds from fossil fuels –– an action proposed to the senate by Fossil Free UB.

Ringer said one of Fossil Free UB’s goals for the spring semester is to get as many students as possible to sign a petition pledging not to donate to the university until the foundation fulfills the Faculty Senate’s requested action of divestment from fossil fuel industries. The petiton’s goal is to raise awareness about what student donations and fees are going to, she said.

Anna Savchenko is an assistant news editor and can be reached at anna.savchenko@ubspectrum.com.