EDITORIAL: Cooperation is key
Divest CMU, a student activist group, is calling for the immediate divestment, or removal, of Central Michigan University’s vested financial interests in the fossil fuel industry.
This year, according to the 2013-14 operating budget, CMU generated $2.3 million in investment income, or about .5 percent of the university’s total revenue.
Unconfirmed by university officials, Divest CMU’s “disorientation guide” claims that 28 percent of the university’s stock portfolio consists of Big Oil investments.
While the university ultimately rejected the group’s proposal for divestment, citing potential for decreased profits and the disapproval of CMU’s donors, it did hear the organization's argument, which was a step in a positive direction.
Earlier in the month, newly selected Vice President of Finance and Administrative Services Barrie Wilkes, in a step toward cooperation, transparency and understanding, sat down to speak with the group’s leadership.
Understandably, the university decided not to restructure its investment portfolio – especially during a time with new building constructions, a new College of Medicine and declining enrollment.
Although the group was confrontational with its approach, citing “environmental genocide” as a consequence of fossil fuel investments and even including a cartoon of Ross being showered by oil profits in their divestment publication, it was still able to have its voice heard.
While Wilkes quickly dismissed the possibility of immediately cutting back on Big Oil investments, he was surprisingly transparent on the reasoning for declining the proposal, even mentioning other potentially controversial investments in firearms, tobacco and liquor.
The group itself cited shock at the university’s willingness to entertain their request. It’s a cooperating relationship like this that should set the standard for administrative discussions at CMU.
For Divest CMU, it would be best to ease off of its hardline stances and polarizing rhetoric. The group's cause is a noble one, one that could resonate with the student body and the university if it is willing to negotiate and come to a reasonable compromise.
The university, as mentioned, has already brought Divest CMU to the table, and it should be applauded for that. It has also demonstrated a willingness over the past several years to make its campus "greener" in its newest construction and renovation projects, though much remains to be done.
That's not to say the university has no responsibility to give ground. Slowly divesting from Big Oil over time and re-investing, perhaps, in green technology companies or in other areas is a potentially feasible way for Divest CMU to achieve its goals while simultaneously keeping CMU's investment revenue stream healthy.
The only way that can happen, though, is for Divest CMU to become more pragmatic about what it wants from the university. It's true that the university, as well as humanity as a whole, must take proactive steps to back away from fossil fuels and other causes of global warming. But it's not going to happen overnight. If Divest CMU can recognize that, it can do a lot of good in Mount Pleasant.