Creighton will reduce its investment exposure to fossil fuel companies from 8.9% to 5.7%, according to an announcement made by the Rev. Daniel S. Hendrickson, S.J. on Tuesday.
The decision was made by the Investment Subcommittee of the Board of Trustees, and it comes amid an ongoing conversation among students and administration regarding issues of sustainability.
“In discussions this past fall, I encouraged our Board to review our guidelines regarding investment assessment processes to ensure they align with our desire for carbon emission reduction, globally and locally, while assessing the fiduciary obligations of the University,” Hendrickson said.
In April of 2019, the university had 10.6% of its endowment invested in fossil fuel companies. Although it is not directly stated, this announcement reveals the investment percentage has decreased by 1.7%.
The reason for the drop from 10.6% to 8.9% is unclear as of now, but College of Arts and Sciences Senior Mike Galeski and other leaders of the Climate Movement, a student group of more than 500 members fighting for climate justice at Creighton, theorize that the decrease is likely because of the poor returns of fossil fuel stocks relative to the rest of the stock market last year.
From this 8.9%, the university will divest another 3.2% — approximately $19 million — of its endowment from fossil fuel companies.
Galeski said that it is encouraging to see this response from the university, and it represents significant progress, but there is still work to be done.
“We are still dangerously overexposed to fossil fuel companies at a rate that is almost three times higher than the national average,” Galeski said. “It is clear that the momentum surrounding the global divestment movement is unstoppable. At this point, it is not a question of if Creighton will be forced to divest the remaining 5.7%, but when.”
The Climate Movement labeled this announcement as a win and accredits it as a direct result of their efforts.
The group worked to increase the voter turnout for Creighton Students Union Ref-erendum No. 19-02: Divestment from Fossil Fuels, which passed in November 2019 with an 85.8% majority, but was not adopted by the university; audience turnout for the “Seeking Hope” forum held on Jan. 28 that was organized by the university as a response to the referendum; and student participation in Silence for Climate, which was a demonstration held by the Climate Movement and other groups on campus last spring to advocate for climate justice and a change in university policy on the issue.
Heider College of Business Dean Anthony Hendrickson said that this decision confirms that Creighton is a community of many voices, and the Rev. Hendrickson and university leadership have listened and are working to be responsive to those voices.
“Clearly, we all share the hope and goal of having a robust planet and environment,” Dean Hendrickson said. “As with any complex issue, there are a number of divergent perspectives on how best to achieve that goal. I think this is a positive step.”
Associate professor of finance Melissa Woodley said at the Jan. 28 “Seeking Hope” forum that while the moral case for divestment may be different, full divestment is not a good idea financially. In regard to the decision made to divest 3.2% of the endowment from fossil fuel companies, Woodley said that she trusts the leaders have made a careful, educated decision.
“The endowment exists to generate income to support the operations of the university, and Creighton depends on this income,” Woodley said. “Our endowment managers have a fiduciary duty to invest endowment funds in a manner designed to achieve the university’s formal annual return target of 7% while minimizing the variance of returns across the economic cycle. I trust that the endowment managers have done their homework and determined that a reduction in exposure to the energy and utility sectors is in the best financial interest of the university.”
In his announcement of this decision, the Rev. Hendrickson detailed steps that the university will take to continue the conversation around issues of sustainability. These steps include a meeting of the new Climate Change Task Force, as well as two speakers that will come to campus in March as a part of Creighton’s ongoing Planetary Emergency Lecture Series.
“I remain hopeful that these discussions and initiatives will have a positive impact on the Creighton community and beyond,” the Rev. Hendrickson said.