In this unsigned ediitorial in the February 16, 2013, issue of The New Hampshire, the venerable independent student newspaper at the University of New Hampshire, editors hailed the administration's decision to accede to student wishes and convene a forum on the issue of fossil fuel divestment.
In the letters to the editor section of this issue (page 17), University of New Hampshire President Mark Huddleston announced a University Dialogue on March 4 concerning the issue of divestment. The Student Environmental Action Coalition presented Huddleston with a 1,000-signature petition back in November urging the university to divest its endowment from fossil fuel companies. Huddleston’s announcement of a forum on the issue signals what we had been waiting for all along: a real, public discussion on the issue of divestment.
SEAC reported that they had met with members of the administration in a closed-door meeting at the end of September and were unsatisfied with their answers regarding divestment. In another closed-door meeting in January, SEAC reported in a letter to the editor that once again members of the administration and the UNH Foundation, which handles the university’s endowment, provided inadequate responses to their questions regarding UNH’s investments.
On March 4, however, the conversation can finally enter the public forum. While it certainly does not guarantee a conclusion to the problem, it will at least allow the entire UNH community to take part in these discussions.
This is also exactly how Huddleston should wield his power in this situation. Even though he does not have the actual authority to directly control how UNH invests its endowment, that is a lame excuse when you are the president of one of the most sustainable universities in the nation. Huddleston does have the ability to direct university dialogue and connect students and the public with key figures from within the UNH administration and the foundation. He has finally used that power to direct this upcoming discussion.
Both sides of the issue have compelling arguments. On the one hand, the university is in a very difficult financial situation, having lost half of its state funding in 2011. As Huddleston pointed out in his letter, the endowment funds primarily go to financial aid for students. With UNH students graduating with some of the highest debt levels in the nation, the university cannot afford to lose money on its investments.
But for those that consider sustainability an issue that is vitally important in this day and age, as this newspaper does, “It’s too hard,” is not an adequate answer when discussing how UNH can invest more responsibly.
The UNH Foundation needs to show that it has exhausted every possible option to sustainably invest its endowment while still receiving gainful returns. If sustainability is truly a part of everything that we do at UNH, than the Foundation needs to show that it adheres to the same mantra. That is why members of the UNH Foundation, including its Board of Directors, must be on hand for this discussion on March 4. They have plenty of time to show that they have taken a request made by a significant portion of the student body seriously. We hope that they are better prepared to answer questions regarding UNH’s investing practices than they were during their meetings with SEAC. This time around, their answers will not be heard behind closed doors.