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OSU Senate backs foundation divestment in fossil fuel firms

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The Oregon State University Faculty Senate voted 38-30 Thursday to encourage the university foundation to divest from fossil fuel companies.

The resolution is nonbinding, but organizers of the OSU Divest campaign hope the move will send a signal to other universities and organizations about the problem of climate change.

“I’m pleased that the Faculty Senate stepped up and showed courage in taking a moral stance about the climate issue,” said College of Education Professor Ken Winograd, OSU Divest’s chief spokesman. “I’m hopeful that this outcome will encourage other faculty groups and students to take action. This resolution has the potential to motivate and energize.”

The motion was passed at the end of a vigorous 50-minute discussion and debate, which featured 17 speakers at the LaSells Stewart Center and three more who participated remotely via a web portal.

A counter-resolution suggesting a delay in the divestment resolution that would allow a task force to study the issue was defeated before the main motion passed on a 31-24 vote of the senators present and a 7-6 vote of those participating online.

Opponents of the resolution criticized it for its wording and for the hastiness with which they said it had been brought before the Senate.

Melodie Putnam of the the College of Agricultural Sciences, said she was against the resolution “because it is flawed and not because something shouldn’t be done. This is not an easy issue.

“Where do you draw the line? There are other companies that people have issues with.”

Putnam and representatives of the colleges of engineering and forestry noted the results of straw polls taken within their departments.

“Why not other issues?,” answered Winograd. “Because climate change has a clock. It’s ticking. It’s time sensitive. It’s a bell waking people up.”

In remarks at the beginning of the debate Winograd noted the history of divestment campaigns, including those targeting the slave trade, apartheid and tobacco.

The fossil fuel divestment campaign has been led by www.350.org, which notes that nine college and universities have agreed to divest, as well as dozens of other municipalities and faith-based organizations.

The OSU Foundation has not taken a stance on the divest campaign, but the group’s board of trustees recently created an advisory committee to consider such requests.

“We realized we needed to put that structure into place regardless of whether this passed or not,” said Molly Brown, the foundation’s senior director for communications who was present for the Senate debate.

The OSU Foundation, a nonprofit entity separate from the university, manages $600 million in assets, with $36 million, or 6 percent, invested in fossil fuel companies.

NEXT STEPS

The OSU Divest resolution that passed on a 38-30 of the Oregon State University Faculty Senate on Thursday is nonbinding. An advisory committee of the OSU Foundation will consider the resolution as part of a new procedure to consider public input on investment holdings.

Contact reporter James Day at jim.day@gazettetimes.com or 541-758-9542. Follow at Twitter.com/jameshday or gazettetimes.com/blogs/jim-day.

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