Students support university divesting from fossil fuel companies

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Full time undergraduate students voted on a referendum, presented by Fossil Free Marquette and put on by Marquette University’s student government (MUSG) to gauge support for fossil fuel divestment on earth day, Thursday April 22.

For Marquette, fossil fuel divestment would entail selling off its investments in fossil fuel companies that are part of the university’s $700 million endowment fund. An endowment fund is a group of investments and financial assets owned by the university. 

Fossil Free Marquette is the student organization that first presented the idea of a student referendum back at a MUSG senate meeting March 8. Their argument is that the university’s support for companies that take part in climate change isn’t aligned with Jesuit values.

“This referendum was presented by Fossil Free Marquette and conducted by MUSG, and students were asked to express their voice/vote on a five-year plan for Marquette University to divest from corporations involved in the fossil fuel industry,” Katie Breck, a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences and president of MUSG, said in an email. 

An email was sent out to all full time undergraduate students, the only eligible voters, with a link to vote on the referendum.

Voters were asked in the referendum sent out April 22, “Do you support Marquette University’s financial divestment from companies directly involved in fossil fuel extraction & distribution as outlined in the attached document?”

Of the 1,553 voters, 87% supported the move to divest. Of the 1,704 eligible, 7,196 undergraduate students voted, which amounts to an overall turnout rate of 23.7%. The turnout rate for the March 2021 MUSG election was 24.3 percent. However, the results of the referendum do not mean that the university plans to divest. 

“(The referendum) was only used to measure student concern to present to University administration, the referendum’s passing does not mean that Marquette will now divest,” Breck said in an email.

For Fossil Free Marquette the 87% of students in favor of divestment indicate an interest in their cause.

“Marquette should divest the endowment from fossil fuels because it is their fiduciary duty as a university to invest in endowment assets in the best interest of the student body, the people the endowment is meant to serve,” Bruce Deal, a sophomore in the College of Business Administration and member of Fossil Free Marquette, said in an email.

Other schools that have begun to divest, such as Georgetown and Creighton have also started with a student referendum.  

Joseph Miscimarra, senior in College of Arts & Sciences and co-founder of Fossil Free Marquette, said that these results are similar to schools that have recently divested.

“This outcome is also pretty consistent with results from similar referenda at other universities; for example, Creighton got 86% approval for fossil fuel divestiture in 2019, and Georgetown got 91% in 2020 just last year. Both of those schools decided to listen to their students and divest, so we’re hopeful that Marquette can follow their lead and choose to get on the right side of history,” Miscimarra said in an email.

Following the results of the referendum, the MUSG senate will look over the results.

“We are in the process of presenting Fossil Free’s recommendation document to the MUSG Senate, which details exactly what a five-year plan for divestment looks like for Marquette. The Senate will vote on this recommendation, and if it passes through our Senate, it will then be presented to the University administration to be voted on,” Breck said in an email.

At this time the administration has yet to issue a response on the results of the Earth Day referendum. But, Miscimarra said he expects some sort of statement from the university.

“We are expecting an official statement from them that clarifies their stance on fossil fuel divestiture and outlines their efforts to participate in shareholder engagement to encourage environmental justice. Until full divestment from fossil fuel companies is achieved, our campaign will remain active,” Miscimarra said.

Though students support the move to divest from fossil fuel companies, all decisions surrounding the endowment fund must be made by University President Michael Lovell and the Board of Trustees.

“Even after the referendum vote, our work is not done,” Deal said in an email. “We will do everything in our power to achieve this goal and will not stop until our demand of full fossil fuel divestment is met.”

This story previously said Creighton and Georgetown have fully divested from fossil fuels. These schools are still in the process of divestment. The Wire regrets this error. 

This story was written by Megan Woolard. She can be reached at megan.woolard@marquette.edu

Claire Driscol and Sarah Richardson also contributed to this report. They can be reached at claire.driscol@marquette.edu and sarah.richardson@marquette.edu