The primary purpose of UW–Madison, according to its mission statement, is to:
provide a learning environment in which faculty, staff and students can discover, examine critically, preserve and transmit the knowledge, wisdom and values that will help ensure the survival of this and future generations and improve the quality of life for all.
We find an intolerable contradiction between the university’s mission and its investment, through the UW Foundation, in companies that threaten the future of not only today’s students, but also life on this planet.
Our team has been pushing UW–Madison to divest since 350 Madison’s founding in 2012 (see a summary of past campaign actions below). We will continue working toward this goal with UW student activists in 2018 and beyond. We also plan to collaborate with the new Director of Sustainability hired by the UW System Student Representatives (UWSSR) in 2017. The director is looking to create five-year fossil fuel divestment plans on system campuses and push the university to act on the UWSSR’s resolution, passed in December 2016, calling on the UW System to completely divest from the top 200 fossil fuel companies by the year 2022.
Fossil fuel divestment is going mainstream. As of March 2018, institutions collectively worth $6 trillion have committed to divest, including New York State and New York City, and divestment is increasingly recognized as a sound financial decision as well as a moral one. To date,
[T]he Foundation strongly believes that it should be very cautious in taking any steps that are intended to turn the Foundation’s endowment into a force that positions the University as a political actor rather than an academic and research institution.
Yet UW was one of the first universities to divest from apartheid South Africa when it sold off all of its holdings in companies doing business there in February 1978.
More than 130 educational institutions have already divested from fossil fuels in full or in part—among them Yale, Johns Hopkins, Boston University, and the University of California in the U.S. and Oxford, Cambridge, and Edinburgh University in the U.K. UW–Madison can no longer afford to hide behind the claim that divestment is out of bounds because it’s “political.”
The time to act is now. Join us!
Here are some of the strategies 350 Madison’s Divestment Campaign and our allies have pursued to push UW–Madison to divest:
- On December 3, 2012, 350 Madison and Climate Action 350 UW delivered more than 1,200 petition signatures, along with this letter, to UW Foundation President Michael M. Knetter.
- In March 2013, the UW–Madison Teaching Assistants Association (TAA) called on UW–Madison to divest from fossil fuel interests and pursue alternatives.
- In February 2014, the UW–Madison Ad Hoc Committee on Fossil Fuel Use and Climate Change issued a report recommending that the university undertake a number of “bold initiatives leading to near term real world impacts”—specifically, prioritizing education initiatives around climate change; promoting research on climate change; committing the campus to significant emission reduction targets; and promoting non–fossil fuel investment opportunities. At that time, only a minority of the committee urged the UW Foundation to divest from fossil fuels.
- In February 2015, our team added UW–Madison to the Multi-School Fossil Free Divestment Fund, a donor-advised divestment fund created to put additional pressure on colleges and universities to divest from fossil fuels. Donations to the fund pegged to a particular school are held and invested until the school divests. If the school fails to divest by an established deadline (currently the end of 2018), donors’ funds will go to other participating schools that have divested.
- Also in 2015, 350 Madison contacted UW Foundation board members by letter, met with foundation officials, delivered petitions, and let the foundation know about donors who had donated through the Multi-School Fossil Free Divestment Fund rather than directly to UW–Madison.
- In 2016, representatives from our team met with UW Foundation officers to heighten their awareness of the concepts of a “carbon bubble” and stranded assets and let them know what other universities were doing to divest.