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PHOTO COURTESY OF SUSTAINABILITY AT PSU - Protesters from Divest PSU make their point at Portland State Universitys 8th-annual Sustainability Celebration in May. Around Earth Day, Lewis & Clark College had reason to celebrate when The Princeton Review named it the greenest college in the country. 

But outside the celebration, students and faculty held a small, peaceful protest to point out an inconvenient truth: the private college’s $233 million endowment is still invested in fossil fuels.

At Lewis & Clark and other Portland colleges, students and faculty are joining the worldwide divestment movement, trying to get their institutions to sell off holdings in oil, coal and gas stocks and bonds.

They're starting to make an impact.

At Portland State University’s eighth-annual sustainability celebration on May 28, more than 30 students dressed in black — to represent an oil spill. They called on PSU to divest fossil fuel holdings from its $42 million foundation.

On July 24, PSU President Wim Wiewel met with two student leaders of the Divest Portland State movement, Alfredo Gonzalez and Linda Hoppes; Paul M. Carey, PSU Foundation chief financial officer; and David Anderson, head of the foundation’s investment committee.    

Carey told students the foundation crafted an Environmental, Social and Governance investment policy statement, which is under review by the foundation’s Board of Trustees and will be voted on at its September board meeting.  

It's a good starting point and “can propel us to the next stage,” says Gonzalez, an environmental science student and Divest Portland State campaign manager. 

While it doesn’t call for divestment from any particular industry, it may provide direction to JP Morgan, which is in charge of the foundation’s investments, to review potential concerns about investing in a number of industries, such as fossil fuels and private prisons. 

“The Divest PSU student organization has had a considerable impact on the discussions taking place in investment committee,” Carey says. “I applaud them for it.” 

Lewis & Clark

In addition to the April protest, Lewis & Clark counseling psychology professor Tod Sloan and sociology professor Bruce Podobnik recently sent a divestment petition with 432 signatures to the college administration and Sustainability Council.  

“To me, the science is very clear that we can’t continue to depend on fossil fuels,” Sloan says.  

Podobnik hopes the Sustainability Council will make a formal recommendation to divest in the next year. That would cause the board of trustees to review the idea of divesting. 

Reed College

At Reed College’s May 2014 graduation ceremony, commencement speaker Igor Vamos announced the college had agreed to divest from fossil fuels. The graduates and audience members responded with a standing ovation.

There was one problem, though. Vamos’ announcement was a hoax.

He's a founding member of The Yes Men, a group that does elaborate spoofs to prod companies to take action, usually responsible environmental actions.

After due consideration, the Reed Board of Trustees subsequently announced it decided against divesting the college endowment, which, at $550 million, is the largest of any private college in Oregon.

But Reed students aren’t giving up.

“The rejection letter was the first step pushing them toward divestment,” says Maggie Davies, a lead organizer of Fossil Free Reed. 

Fossil Free Reed is now working to connect Reed alumni and faculty members to the divestment campaign.

“I think winning for me is politicizing the student body and getting them to care about these issues of climate change,” Davies says.

Reed prides itself as being a front-runner on liberal politics and coming up with solutions to big problems like climate change, she says.

“I think that if PSU and Lewis & Clark divested before Reed did, they would be a little ashamed. If Reed doesn’t divest, then we’re going to be on the wrong side of history.” 

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