An amendment proposed before the Board of Regents would move the University of Nebraska system toward sustainability in response to student-led efforts for divestment from fossil fuels.
The amendment is part of Friday’s Board of Regents meeting at Nebraska Innovation Campus, and it would amend NU policy that states investment decisions should primarily be made to maximize returns. If passed, the change would expand investment decisions to also consider environmental, social and governance criteria, according to the meeting agenda.
“I think that this is a real step forward in terms of sustainability initiatives for the university system and shows a lot of good faith on behalf of the university in terms of listening to students and working closely not only with me but also with vested parties like Divest NU,” University of Nebraska-Lincoln student regent Roni Miller said.
The policy change means the regents and the University Endowments Committee could alter NU’s Fund N investments — about $370 million — which includes gifts made directly to the university, the agenda states.
The amendment follows conversations Carter had with students when he was a candidate for the NU presidency as well as 15 months of conversations sparked by students across the NU system, who are credited for the proposed change.
“Our students are passionate champions for sustainability, and we’re listening,” Carter said in a news release. “The chancellors and I share that commitment to being good stewards of our natural resources and we want to align our investments accordingly.”
This advocacy also led Carter to name Chris Kabourek, NU’s chief financial officer, as NU’s chief sustainability officer in December.
Miller, whose final regular meeting as a student regent will be Friday, said she’s excited for the possibility of the proposed amendment.
“I think that this issue of sustainability is one that is so timely, so pressing and urgent, and so it demands for all of us, collectively, to look at where we are in our leadership positions and what can be done,” Miller said.
Two Divest NU organizers — Brittni McGuire, a senior fisheries and wildlife major, and Madison Whitney, a junior environmental studies and global studies double major — said the policies are exciting, but the change cannot be the end of progress.
“We hope that it’s just one of many steps on the right path,” Whitney said.
NU does not have any direct investments in fossil fuel companies, NU President Ted Carter said in the release, but NU does have around $7.3 million in energy companies, a little less than 2% of total Fund N investments, down from 6.5% last year. Direct investments in companies on the Carbon Underground 200 list total slightly more than 1%.
Additional endowments — Fund A investments — are controlled by the University of Nebraska Foundation, not the regents.
The NU Foundation is a private entity, meaning investments do not have to be made public.
In line with the policy amendment, the students said a review of Fund A investments should be done.
Investments in fossil fuel companies are declining, the release states, and regents plan to make no more Fund N investments in energy companies that lack “a meaningful clean energy plan.” This means investments could be made in companies that have a high carbon footprint now but are working to be more sustainable.
By 2025, the plan is to have zero Fund N investments in companies without such a plan.
McGuire said even if these companies are looking toward sustainability it does not erase the harm they may have had against minority communities.
“I think we’re getting to them on the environmental argument of divestment from fossil fuels, but I don’t think they’re making that connection to the social justice aspect, which is just as important,” McGuire said.
Divestment should be the beginning of more conversations, she said, and lead to a review of other investments and the creation of a commission dedicated to divestment.
“Just because we take the time to spend all of these hours working on a topic, that shouldn’t be the key that opens the gate to this kind of information,” McGuire said. “It should be open to everybody.”
As a direct result, the first quarterly report of Fund N holdings is included in Friday’s meeting agenda.
Both Whitney and McGuire said NU’s next steps are exciting and are moving NU toward divestment, but Divest NU will continue to speak out until full divestment is a reality.
“That is our main goal and we’re gonna keep the momentum going until that happens,” McGuire said.
The board’s Business and Finance Committee, which Miller is a member of, unanimously passed the proposed amendment. She said she is hopeful the amendment will pass the board unanimously as well.
“While the world of investments, managing those investments, can oftentimes be a convoluted area to understand, it is important to know that students are being heard and that their values are respected,” she said. “There is work to reflect those in the university and through their leadership.”
This headline was changed at 9:30 p.m. on April 7 to correct the meaning of the Board of Regents's amendment.