By: Nic Koski, Columnist
This Earth day, Towson University launched “TU Big Give” to ask the community for donations as an investment in TU. However, some of these donations may be going toward TU’s investments in fossil fuels—a major source of human-caused climate change and environmental degradation.
Donations made to TU are managed by the TU Foundation (TUF). TUF is a non-profit corporation that manages and invests TU’s endowment (money donated to the university) of $69,365,156, as stated on TUF’s website. And according to recent statements made by Sean Welsh, TU’s associate vice president for communications and media relations, TUF uses the investment manager Vanguard for their stock and bond fund investments.
An analysis of Vanguard, using the mutual fund analyzer Fossil Free Funds, finds that the company has over $318 billion in fossil fuel investments. Fossil Free Funds’ analysis also shows that just one of TUF’s Vanguard investment funds listed in Welsh’s statement, the Vanguard High Dividend Yield ETF, has 17% of its assets in fossil fuels. Other funds that TUF invests in and that were able to be analyzed had anywhere between 6-14% in fossil fuels.
TUF has stated earlier this February that it “does not own any direct investments in fossil fuels.” However, the majority of their investments (approximately $63 million) are indirectly invested through these investment funds as opposed to direct investments in stocks or bonds, according to TUF’s most recent financial statements.
Based on this evidence, TUF most likely has significant fossil fuel exposure in their investments. TUF has refrained from stating how much they have invested in each individual fund. But if the data is at all similar to last year’s financial statements, they may have upwards of $3 million indirectly invested in fossil fuels.
“TU investing in fossil fuels is a very short-sighted decision and lacking longevity for the university’s goals because it’s apparent that fossil fuels will not sustain us,” Gabriela Garcia, president of the Student Environmental Organization, said in response to these findings. TU, on the other hand, has not responded to requests for comment.
TU’s webpage on sustainability states that “environmental health and well-being is a top priority at Towson University,” and this is pursued through various on-campus sustainability initiatives.
“But why have composting, recycling, LEDs and temperature controls if we’re actually giving our money to the fossil fuel industry?” Garcia said.
On other campuses where fossil fuel investment has been brought to light, there has been a growing push for fossil fuel divestment which urges our larger institutions to pull their money and support out of the fossil fuel industry for its culpability in the current climate crisis. Some notable universities that have made divestment commitments include Yale University, Stanford University, and Boston University, among others, as observed in a list of global divestment commitments.
Earlier this February, in response to an inquiry about whether TUF would consider fossil fuel divestment, TUF stated that their “investments — or divestments — are never made lightly, but instead with a great deal of research and often months of evaluation. We’re in the midst of our first strategic planning discussions, and part of that planning is taking into account how socially-responsible investment factors into our overall goals.”