Maclean's annual University Rankings has grown to become the quintessential guide for prospective students each year. But a group of recent graduates, including one Hamilton woman, is petitioning Maclean's to change what they include.
With nearly 9,000 signatures by time of print, the petition urges Maclean's to include an "ethical investment ranking" category to their yearly evaluation. The category would discern where post-secondary institutions choose to invest their endowment funds — totalling over $1 billion nationwide — because the group says many institutions currently invest in companies they believe are unethical.
"I was really surprised by how omnipresent it is. Everybody is doing it," Elysia Petrone, of Hamilton, and one of the three women leading the petition, said. She said universities are investing in everything from oil sands to weapons manufacturing and most students have no idea.
'It's hypocritical that universities are there to teach students ways to save the world and they're investing in companies that allow these projects to happen' —Elysia Petrone, one of the organizers of the petition
"I would bet that a lot of the donors probably don't even know about it. My family is from Thunder Bay and my aunt left money to Lakehead University when she passed away. I know for a fact she wouldn't want it to be going to some of the investments, like Enbridge."
The online petition is urging the magazine to include a category to evaluate schools' investments from an ethical perspective. It states "It is our hope that this ranking will make Universities think twice about where they invest."
Petrone said there are lots of ways Maclean's could show the information, as simply as listing the number of companies that are involved in weapons manufacturing, as an example. The recent Lakehead grad said they're also hoping the petition will raise awareness and encourage students to start digging to uncover the information themselves.
"It's hypocritical that universities are there to teach students ways to save the world and they're investing in companies that allow these projects to happen," she said.
"There are so many other companies that aren't doing unethical things. It would be easy to shift their portfolios."
She's also hoping McMaster University will get on board by taking a look at their own portfolio and starting to divest in contentious companies in order to put pressure on other institutions.
People across the country have signed the petition, encouraging the women in their cause.
Jennifer Wanner, of Calgary, said: "It is fantastic that students are holding universities accountable for how they choose to invest their money. Professors work extremely hard in instilling critical thinking in students, so it is wonderful to see action being taken upon the university administrations to also think critically and ethically."
In Toronto, Milan Ilnyckyj echoed these sentiments: "Universities have billions of dollars which they can choose to invest in either the climate-destroying energy options of the past or in the clean and zero-carbon sources of the future. They should have the foresight to invest in a way that treats people in future generations justly."
The women wanted to wait until they had a substantial amount of signatures— their original goal was 6,000, but now they're aiming for 10,000 or more— before approaching Maclean's. But the magazine has already caught wind of the petition and said they're not planning on changing their rankings any time soon.
"Interest in Maclean’s university rankings is always very high among students and we appreciate all the feedback we get. However, we believe this is an issue best explored in an article, and so at this point we are not considering introducing a ranking indicator on ethical investment of university endowment funds," the magazine told CBC in an official statement.
Though Petrone was not able to be reached for comment after Maclean's response, it's unlikely Maclean's decision will deter her. She said the awareness from the campaign is even more important than getting Maclean's attention.
"We set our goal and were just hoping we could really get a lot of momentum," she said. "The universities have a choice and they can change their behaviour."