Divest WKU urges university trustees to consider ‘people, planet and profit’

Brody Rexing

The WKU Sunrise Movement debuted their Divest WKU campaign on Thursday to urge WKU to stop any investments that benefit the fossil fuel industry.

There are currently no fossil fuel or fracking companies that Divest WKU has found the university has specifically invested in. The group instead assumes that there may be some companies in WKU’s mutual fund portfolio that feed into the fossil fuel industry.

Divest WKU follows a simple set of goals: increased transparency in university endowments and elimination of fossil fuel investment among these endowments. The group also intends to create scholarships for students whose communities are directly affected by climate change.

The group has a three-part plan of action to encompass all contributing members of the WKU family. For students, they intend on hosting educational events concerning the fossil fuel industry and sustainable investment, as well as plan grassroots organization. 

For alumni, they hope to create an open dialogue with the Board of Alumni and attempt to sway them from investing in non-sustainable industries and funds. For the faculty and staff, the main goal is to make divestment a fundamental part of the strategic plan to keep the university sustainable.

Their proposed redirection of endowments would see investment in stocks that take environmental, social and governmental issues into consideration. This type of investment, known as ESG investing, has seen a rise in recent years. Currently there are roughly 350 investments that are ESG friendly, according to The Vanguard Group. Vanguard also notes there is nearly $89 billion total in ESG investment. 

Divestment supporters said they hope this will give WKU plenty of growing and dynamic investment opportunities should they choose to put Divest WKU’s proposals into action. 

“These are not fringe ideas,” said senior Ryan St. Clair, who is an active member of both the Sunrise Movement and Divest WKU.

Over two dozen colleges, counties and municipalities have divested to date to ranging degrees of success. This includes universities like Stanford, the University of Maine system and Kentucky’s own Georgetown University.

The campaign proposes qualitative benefits in addition to ESG and divestment’s quantitative benefits. 

Members of Divest WKU said, should WKU successfully divest, it would become the first public university to divest in Kentucky. Georgetown was the first university and private education institution in Kentucky to do so in June of 2015.

Divest WKU also said the  core message of divestment aligns with the university’s strategic plan released in 2018. One goal is for WKU to follow a plan that is “sustainable” and supports “regional economic diversification,” according to the plan. 

WKU currently has a silver ranking from the Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System. Courtney Martin, a WKU alum and Sunrise Movement member, said divestment would be the perfect opportunity for the university to achieve a gold ranking in sustainability.

Martin also said, while unemployment in Bowling Green is extremely low, Bowling Green faces the serious issue of underemployment.

Martin said her job is at risk and if eliminated, she would be forced to move to a bigger city such as Louisville or St. Louis. She, along with Divest WKU, believes divestment would allow money to be put back into “frontline communities” like Bowling Green and create opportunity for residents to escape underemployment.

“It’s really important that, whenever we’re looking at divestments, we’re also looking for opportunities to reinvest locally,” said Martin.

Although no mention of future meetings was made during Divest’s principle event, WKU community members can sign a petition in support of Divest WKU goals.

News reporter Brody Rexing can be reached at [email protected].