Correction: The printed version of the article erroneously states that the UVSS AGM will be open to both faculty and students, when in fact the vote will be open to undergraduate students only. The online version has been amended to reflect this.
Following a heated debate at the Sept. 22 UVSS board meeting, the motion to introduce a divestment referendum question to the Annual General Meeting was approved, and scheduled to take place on Oct. 16.
“There was confusion because people wanted to debate the issue at this meeting, when really this meeting was simply to ask whether or not it would be appropriate to bring up [the divestment] question for debate at the AGM,” said Divest UVic member Tristan Ryan.
Members of the UVSS struggled to determined if the decision should pass as a simple majority, which requires more than half of the board to vote in agreement, or a two-thirds majority. The motion passed by one vote on a two-thirds margin, with the meeting lasting from 6:30-11:30 p.m.
Divest UVic is asking the University of Victoria Foundation and pension trustees, responsible for the university’s endowment funds, to reinvest and adjust the composition of their funds to exclude investing in companies that work with fossil fuels, according to Ryan.
“Their motion says to re-invest in socially responsible and sustainable options, but they had no examples of those options,” said UVSS chairperson Kayleigh Erickson via email.
Alternatively, Divest UVic had the option to have members sign a petition for their motion to be put on the AGM agenda, without having to go through the board. “I certainly wouldn’t say that there was an escalation, [but ]rather a debate, which I believe will continue at the AGM,” Erickson said.
“We’re not asking these fund managers to change their mandates or what they do, [but just to] do it in a slightly different way,” he said.
UVSS board members questioned the fossil fuel re-investment process, a decision that falls to the UVic Foundation, trustees, and board of governors. Divest UVic was uncertain if the motion would pass at the board meeting. “If it didn’t [pass], we already have a referendum vote in March on the question of divestment,” Ryan said.
“Confusion around what divestment actually means is usually something we need to clarify,” he said. The AGM will allow students to familiarize with the issue of divestment and ask questions before the referendum voting begins. The vote will be open to undergraduate studies only.
“A lot of us come to the University of Victoria because we believe in sustainability,” Ryan said. “It’s all great to compost your apples and bring your own mug and everything, but when you’re investing your capital in the projects that are some of the biggest contributors to climate change, it rings a little hollow.”
“We encourage students to pressure the university to put its money where its mouth is,” he said.