The University of Minnesota plans to withdraw all of its investments in fossil fuel-related companies over the next five to seven years amid pressure from students who want the school to do more to fight climate change.
The U shared details about its intention to move away from fossil fuel investments this week after student government leaders at the Twin Cities campus renewed demands for the state's flagship university to divest from coal, oil and natural gas.
"Students and community members have been pushing for this for so many years at this point," said senior Maddie Miller, environmental accountability committee director for the Minnesota Student Association, the U's undergraduate student government. "This is just one really small step in the grand scheme of things."
Across the country, college students concerned about climate change are pushing their schools to divest from fossil fuels. Harvard University said this month that it would divest its endowment from fossil fuels, while two of the U's Big Ten peers — Rutgers University and the University of Michigan — have also chosen to disinvest from fossil fuel-related companies.
In Minnesota, St. Olaf College has committed to phasing out its fossil fuel investments, and Macalester College announced in August it would divest from all dedicated, publicly traded oil and gas assets.
Just over 4% of the U's $1.75 billion central endowment is invested in fossil fuel-related companies, according to a university statement.
University leaders say the school will make no direct investments in carbon 200 companies — a list of the largest owners of carbon reserves — nor will it make new private investments in funds that invest heavily in fossil fuel extraction or processing.
"It's important to note that the majority of these investments are legacy commitments in liquidation or wind-down mode," the U's statement said.
"Some of that capital will be redeployed to opportunities outside of the energy sectors, while some will be replaced by ongoing commitments to renewable or clean energy resources, including more energy-efficient technologies with broad market applications."
Student leaders at the U have long sought this change. In 2013, the Minnesota Student Association passed a resolution asking the university to divest.
More recently, the Association of Big Ten Students, which represents more than 500,000 undergraduates, called on all Big Ten schools to divest from fossil fuels.
The Minnesota Student Association cited these previous efforts this week in a divestment letter sent to university leaders and the Board of Regents, urging them to "stand on the right side of history."
Abdulaziz Mohamed, the U's undergraduate student body president and one of the letter's authors, said he was "glad the university has chosen this direction."
"I want to thank the student leaders, particularly the climate activists, who've started this work to begin with," he said.
Miller added she thinks the move is "never really going to be soon enough," but she acknowledged the university likely cannot pull out of its investments overnight "and not have repercussions from it."
Regents James Farnsworth and Mike Kenyanya said the university has reached a reasonable decision. Kenyanya noted it's a more immediate timeline than the 10-year exit plan Rutgers University has adopted.
"I think we should do it as soon as possible, and if as soon as possible is five to seven years, then that's that," he said.
Kenyanya also praised student leaders for their persistent advocacy.
"The other week we had fires on one side of the country, a drought in the middle," Kenyanya said. "This is the kind of activism and pressure we need."
Ryan Faircloth • 612-673-4234