Soapbox: BC Foundation invested in fossil fuels

In what was described by the Guardian as the fastest growing protest movement in history, the country’s push towards fossil fuel divestment is sweeping through universities. Seattle was the first city in the country to dedicate itself to divestment, and UW has recently chosen to follow suit.

UW’s Board of Regents were brought to this conclusion by students who believed the public University’s ability to profit with its endowment funds must be secondary to certain ethical principles. In this case, the environment must take precedent, and UW’s students made its administration bow to its ethical will.

But how does Bellevue College’s investment policies compare to that of the University of Washington’s? Is BC invested in some transnational super-corporation, armed with clubs which turn little ethical baby seals directly into profit?

At least Bellevue College’s state funded investment policies are incredibly boring.

“We are really so much less interesting, because the categories of investments that we are allowed to invest into are defined in this RCW 39.59.020, so they are very boring,” said Jennifer Strotger, executive director of finance and auxiliary services.

Only 40 percent of the college’s liquid assets can be put into this fund  is made up of Federal bonds and the like, completely dependable but with an interest rate that barely keeps up with inflation. Further, the 60 percent of state funded money not put into these federal bonds are put into bank accounts that basically don’t grow and can’t shrink. All of this is about as fun as watching paint dry next to a humidifier.

However, not all of Bellevue College’s assets are from the state. It also recieves donations. Though they have almost seven million dollars invested, the Bellevue College Foundation, which controls the endowment, is not required to invest in Federal or State bonds.

While it is rather difficult to find information about the Foundation’s investment policies beyond examples of patting itself on the back, the best I could find was a 2013-2012 Smith Bunday Berman Britton audit of the foundation.

By some accounting mumbo jumbo I don’t understand, the audit only could show the specific investments that “represent ten percent or more of the investment fair value at June 30, 2013 and 2012.” Roughly 11 percent or half a million dollars of its investments go into a portfolio called U.S. Core Equity 1, almost 8 percent of which is invested in the highly controversial energy sector, including Exxon Mobil. Other questionable names appear in the portfolio, including Johnson and Johnson as well as Pfizer.

In the wake of local protests, of which students are always a part, perhaps it is time for the Bellevue College Administration to consider, as UW’s was made to before, what its priorities are.
BC has touted itself as an environmental champion in the past with pet projects of varying success. I’m sure the bare-foot folks down in sustainability will make sure the administrators hear their voices, maybe even with a drum circle.

If there is any reasonable person still unafraid of not only the imminent damage that climate change will cause upon themselves, but also unashamed of their personal role in this damage, then I know of no way to get the message through. Luckily, I don’t have to. We are the majority now. We want to donate to a school that does not prioritize returns over the future of our planet.

There is plenty in the Foundation’s return policy guidelines that states that the investments are intended to make money, but not a single word about ethical constraints that would stop the school from investing in just about anything that turned a profit.