USC discloses investment numbers in fossil fuel energy

ECore representative Tianna Shaw-Wakeman and ESA co-director Claire Mauss encouraged students to contact the Investmest Office to ask USC to disclose its fossil fuel investments during Monday’s Divest SC Rally. (Vincent Leo | Daily Trojan)

Five percent of USC’s endowment funds fossil fuel investments, the Investment Office confirmed to the Daily Trojan Thursday. The release of this information comes days after more than 100 students rallied at Tommy Trojan for further transparency regarding University investments.

At 5%, USC invests $277 million in fossil fuels. Harvard has directed $560 million — 1% of its $39.2 billion endowment — toward fossil fuels, according to information published in May by Divest Harvard. The University of California system has divested from fossil fuel investments from its $13.4 billion endowment,. USC has a $5.5 billion endowment.

The Environmental Student Assembly, which hosted the rally Monday, has been urging the University to disclose this information since mid-October. At the Divest SC rally, ESA co-director Nathaniel Hyman encouraged students to call the Investment Office and push the University to release their numbers. Since then, multiple students have said the Investment Office has disclosed the fossil fuel investment numbers to them. In December, the organization sent a letter to President Carol Folt to request transparency with the proportion of the University’s endowment fund invested in the fossil fuel industry. 

“Endowment spending, which has historically been impervious to inquiry from students, staff, faculty and the public, must also be included in the University’s push towards transparency,” the letter read.

The Office of Sustainability said it was unable to comment on the investment numbers but that it supports both the students advocating for transparency and the University’s endowment spending decisions. 

Hyman also said he hopes that USC will take action to improve the University’s issue with fossil fuel investment 

“We need to make sure that the University is still fulfilling its fiduciary obligation to its workers, to the institution,” he said. “Those are things that we are not trying to contend with. We are trying to make the University money, and we were trying to do it in a way that actually doesn’t kill people.”

Members of ESA and Environmental Core will meet with Folt Friday to discuss the University’s fossil fuel investments. ECore representative Tianna Shaw-Wakeman said her organization is unsure of what the meeting will entail.  

“We have no idea if she already has a divestment plan in place or what her thoughts are,” Shaw-Wakeman said. “Pretty much everything is contingent on tomorrow and what she says. Ideally, she would say that [divestment] is going to happen and it will go perfectly, but we aren’t sure.”

ESA and ECore’s “disclose, divest and reinvest” campaign has worked to convince University officials to direct USC’s endowment toward other energy resources, preferably renewable energy.

“No one has proposed that we divest from the fossil fuel industry and then place that money under a mattress — that would be absurd and horrible for our workers’ pensions,” Hyman said. “[What] we are suggesting is that we take as much funds as we legally can from our fossil fuel investments and put them … preferably in renewables and green technology.”

Hyman said students must use their voices to amplify the need to reduce the University’s fossil fuel investments. 

“Through supporting divestment, your voice is amplified because we are … in a relatively small community with an absolutely absurd carbon footprint,” Hyman said. “Now is your chance to substantially reduce your own personal carbon emissions through using your power as an individual as the University reviews [its power].”

In a statement to the Daily Trojan, the University wrote that Folt is working with the administration to develop a plan to incorporate sustainability in their investments. 

“[Folt] is working closely with the Investment Committee members of the Board of Trustees and the endowment investment staff to balance the need for sustainability and the costs associated with this priority,” the statement read. “In order to establish a fossil fuel divestment policy, the Investment Committee must consider its fiduciary responsibilities to the university and the long-term risks and returns associated with these assets.”

The University said its fossil fuel investments include oil and natural gas exposure that are primarily private market investments in which immediate divestment would result in significant losses.

Correction: The article incorrectly stated that Harvard University has invested $5.6 million in fossil fuels out of a $40.9 billion endowment. The university has invested $560 million from a $39.2 billion endowment. The Daily Trojan regrets this error.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include more information about USC’s endowment investments.