Responding to calls from students and faculty concerned about global warming, the Oregon State University Board of Trustees voted Friday to dump the university’s investments in the fossil fuel industry.
Specifically, the board amended the investment policy for the Public University Fund, which manages investment assets for six of Oregon’s seven public universities (the University of Oregon is not a participant). Under an agreement with the other member universities, OSU has authority to set investment policy for the group.
The decision means the state treasurer will begin selling off about $6.7 million in securities issued by fossil fuel companies, which represent less than 2 percent of the $516 million currently held in the fund. Friday’s vote does not affect the OSU Foundation, which has also been the target of divestment demands by students and faculty members.
The vote was 11-0, with two board members recusing themselves.
In other business, the board discussed expansion plans for the university's satellite campus in Bend and approved a raise for OSU President Ed Ray.
The OSU-Cascades campus currently occupies 10 acres and serves about 1,100 students. The university also owns an adjoining 46-acre property, the site of a former pumice mine, which is slated for future expansion.
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On Friday the board heard information about another option that would involve the acquisition of another adjacent property, the 72-acre Deschutes County Demolition Landfill, which would give the Bend campus a total of 128 acres.
OSU has signed a letter of intent to buy the landfill from Deschutes County for the appraised value minus the cost of remediation.
Current estimates indicate that expanding onto the pumice mine site alone would cost $38.2 million, while acquiring the landfill site and expanding on the combined acreage would cost $13.4 million more, or $51.6 million.
OSU-Cascades President Becky Johnson told the board that both options would be expected to serve 5,000 students at buildout, but the 128-acre proposal would provide additional benefits.
Acquiring the landfill site, she said, would provide a source of fill material for the pumice mine site, reducing the expense and disruption of trucking in fill from elsewhere. It would also provide space for more athletic fields, additional housing, solar power arrays, a “living laboratory” for environmental research and an “innovation district” where private companies could partner with the university.
“The things we’re talking about are not serving more students, they’re about more educational opportunities that we can get from a larger campus,” she said.
The board did not make a decision about whether to pursue the landfill property. Instead, it went into executive session for about an hour to discuss potential negotiating strategies and possible risks associated with acquiring the site. Oregon’s open meetings law allows public bodies to discuss certain sensitive matters, including real estate negotiations, behind closed doors.
The board also voted to give Ray a 6 percent pay raise.
The OSU president’s current total compensation is $699,874 a year, including $307,332 from OSU plus $237,269 in supplemental salary and a $155,273 retirement plan contribution from the OSU Foundation. After the raise, he will make $741,876 per year in total compensation.
Ray said he would donate the additional pay to scholarships and student programs. He did the same with his last raise, a 3 percent pay hike that started Jan. 1, 2016.
The meeting was briefly disrupted when a student activist stood to address the audience, denouncing the board as illegitimate and demanding immediate action to cut tuition.
“They are going to raise our tuition again, and they have no right to do so without our consent," said Alex Riccio of Allied Students for Another Politics, a campus protest group.
"They run this place too much like a business. They're running it like a business instead of a school."
After several minutes, Riccio allowed himself to be escorted from the room, and the meeting resumed after a brief recess.
Two other student protesters made similar statements, interrupting the board at intervals spaced several minutes apart before allowing themselves to be led out of the room by university officials.
A fourth student distributed a list of demands that included tuition cuts, greater board accountability and increased funding for struggling OSU departments.
Reporter Bennett Hall can be reached at 541-758-9529 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @bennetthallgt.