Call on UNC to divest endowment from coal

Students should vote “yes” on the referendum today that calls upon the University to stop investing in coal.

In addition to voting for student body president, other student offices and a clarification of the student constitution, students have the opportunity to voice their support or dissent on a referendum calling for UNC’s divestment from coal in the University’s endowment.

Although this referendum isn’t binding and doesn’t obligate the University to take any action, its passage would demonstrate the student body’s commitment to responsible investment and a moral opposition to climate change.

Because of the unfortunate lack of transparency surrounding the multi-billion dollar endowment, it’s not clear just how much money is invested in the coal industry.

In the long run, this absence of transparency in the endowment is a major problem that must be addressed.

But for now, divesting from coal is exactly what the University should be doing to protect itself and the environment, as well as to promote responsible investing in the future.

A recent study by Harvard University found that the life cycle effects of coal, including the effects of its attendant waste stream, are costing the U.S. public between $300 billion and over $500 billion annually.

Clearly, the coal industry is not only a tremendous drag on the U.S. economy, but it also terribly compromises the country’s environment and health.

There remains no reason as to why we, as a University, should continue to have parts of our endowment invested in an increasingly outdated coal industry.

UNC’s endowment is currently structured such that parts of it are in mutual funds, in which the money might be simultaneously invested in many industries, and other parts are invested in stocks and bonds.

From a financial management perspective, it is relatively easier to divest from coal stocks and bonds. As such, UNC should immediately divest in those single-name stocks and bonds affiliated with the coal industry.

With regards to our mutual fund investments, it is understandable that it might take more time and be a little more difficult to divest fully from coal.

A mutual fund is effectively a pool of stocks, bonds and other financial instruments. For example, a mutual fund could be invested simultaneously in a solar power company as well as a coal company.

But, because of the way mutual funds are packaged, an investor can’t pick which particular parts of the mutual fund to invest in.

This means that, should UNC divest from coal, it must divest from any mutual funds which contain any coal-related investments.

However, the UNC Management Company, the organization that manages the endowment, should at least begin to look toward alternative mutual funds, which offer similar financial returns, while not promoting this unhealthy industry.

A potential rebuttal that divesting from coal will negatively impact the strength of the University’s endowment is, frankly, not a potent one.

There are many alternative options that the endowment can invest in, which not only will offer comparable, if not better returns, but don’t come with the environmental and ethical baggage of coal.

In today’s referendum, vote “yes” to divest the University’s endowment from coal and, by doing so, support UNC’s legacy as a mission-driven University.

Thanks for reading.

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