Fort Lewis College Foundation board members Tuesday declined to pull foundation money out of investments in coal, oil and natural gas as requested by a student group.
The unanimous decision was a setback for FLC Divest Now, which wanted the foundation over five years to withdraw investments in any of 200 companies that deal in fossil fuels.
The foundation’s investment in fossil fuels totals about $150,000 in a $17.2 million portfolio.
Board members said divestment of fossil-fuel holdings would be a token gesture with no real impact. It would be hypocritical of them to drop fossil fuels when they ask gas and oil companies for contributions during fundraising campaigns, board members said.
Board member Don Mapel said acceding to one request could open the way for another special-interest group to make demands. The requested action would “hamstring” future boards.
Chuck Carson said students, instead of saying “you” should take a certain action, should ask what “we” as a society can do to solve energy challenges.
FLC President Dene Kay Thomas said the college employs many energy-saving practices.
The board’s finance subcommittee, which met last week, recommended that no change in investment policy occur. The committee instead urged the board to monitor the status of fossil fuels at least annually.
A dozen students wearing orange labels identifying them as FLC Divest Now attended the meeting. Two of them, Scott Greenler and Lionel Di Giacomo, spoke before board members voted.
Board members were taking the easy way out, Greenler said. They were passing the buck, pushing responsibility onto the next generation.
“You’re ignoring your responsibility to students,” Greenler said. “This is a significant disappointment.”
“Divesting fossil-fuel investments over five years is a small thing to do,” Di Giacomo said. “We have the opportunity to be leaders.”
Michaela Steiner, who organized FLC Divest Now, issued a written letter.
“Fort Lewis College had a great opportunity today to put its money where its mouth is,” Steiner said. “Fossil-fuel divestment is a symbolic act of fighting climate change. I’m sad that democracy has not held true as a ruling principle in this situation.”
Steiner said her group is planning to take a Gandhian approach to social change by holding a sit-in.
FLC Divest Now is part of a national movement by students, colleges and university professors to persuade their institutions to jettison investments in fossil fuels.
Among campuses that have witnessed student-faculty activism are Harvard, Middlebury College in Vermont, Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., and Pitzer in Claremont, Calif.
On April 22, about 40 FLC Divest Now members delivered a petition to the administration asking the same of FLC. They had hoped to find Thomas at her desk, but she was traveling.
They left the petition, which bore the signatures of more than 1,000 students, faculty and alumni, with campus spokesman Mitch Davis.