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Committee doesn’t endorse fossil fuel divestment at regents meeting

By Eu Ran Kwak and Trevor Cleere

Sept. 17, 2014 10:01 p.m.

SAN FRANCISCO — The University of California Board of Regents discussed recommendations for improving the handling of sexual violence, the 2015-2016 budget outlook and sustainable investments, among other issues, at its bimonthly meeting Wednesday.

Budget

The regents expressed frustration at the meeting that Gov. Jerry Brown did not fulfill their entire state funding request for the 2014-2015 fiscal year, and they discussed concerns that UC costs will continue to balloon.

In June, Brown signed the state’s budget that allocated about $3 billion to the UC for the 2014-2015 fiscal year, which was $124.9 million short of what the University requested.

“Historically, we’ve always relied on the chief executive to be passionate about higher education,” UC Regent Russell Gould said. “We have not got this governor committed to higher education. We are not on the radar.”

While discussing the UC budget for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, Patrick Lenz, vice president of budget and capital resources at the UC Office of the President, projected that the University will face $360-390 million in additional expenditure costs, as well as $298 million in additional costs for capital facility projects.

Lenz said the additional expenditures will include an increase in retiree health benefit costs and paying for a 3 percent increase in compensation for UC faculty and staff that took effect in July.

Lenz also mentioned that state funding and inflation have grown 31 percent and 80 percent respectively in the past 14 years, while UC enrollment has grown by 50 percent. He said the widening gap between state funding and enrollment has led to bigger costs.

Sustainable investment

The regents’ committee on investment passed recent recommendations from the University’s Task Force on Sustainable Investing.

Earlier this month, the task force recommended that the UC invest $1 billion in sustainable companies, rather than divest from fossil fuel companies as students have called for. UC officials said divestment from fossil fuel companies could lead to a loss of hundreds of millions for the University in investment returns.

The regents’ decision Wednesday was met with protest from dozens of students calling for a firmer stance on the fossil fuel issue. As they exited the regents’ meeting room, they chanted, “ESG doesn’t work for me, unless we go fossil free,” referring to environmental, social and corporate governance.

Alden Phinney, a student representative on the task force who attends UC Santa Cruz, said he thinks all of the recommendations are positive but don’t go far enough and that the UC needs to divest.

“The recommendations aren’t innovative – they’re meant to lessen the pressure built up by the Fossil Free campaign,” Phinney said.

Although the conversation surrounding fossil fuel divestment largely began with Fossil Free UC, a student initiative, some students said they felt the student voice was underrepresented in the task force.

“I would have liked to have seen a student present the recommendations of the task force, as one did for sexual violence on campus,” said UC Student Regent Sadia Saifuddin.

Jagdeep Singh Bachher, UC chief investment officer, said the task force did not close off the option of divestment for the future. The regents will revisit the recommendations in November, said UC President Janet Napolitano.

The regents also discussed several other topics at its meeting Wednesday, including:

  • A presentation on seven recommendations made by the UC’s systemwide task force on sexual assault.
  • A proposal for the approval of UC Ventures, an investment vehicle that would encourage the UC to have investment holdings in companies that were developed on UC campuses and using UC facilities. Some regents were skeptical of the efficacy of such a venture, with Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom citing the failure of similar efforts undertaken by San Francisco International Airport during his tenure as that city’s mayor.
  • An NCAA Division I governance reform that was designed to give more autonomy to schools in “Power 5” conferences, such as the Pac-12, passed in August. The reform allows teams in those conferences to give out more money for athletic scholarships and extend healthcare coverage for athletes.

The regents will reconvene Thursday morning at the UC San Francisco Mission Bay campus.

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