Montreal

Divest McGill movement gets backing from arts faculty

The move to get McGill University to divest away from fossil fuels has received a big boost, with the faculty of arts voting to back the student-led campaign.

Six per cent of university's $1.4-billion endowment is in fossil fuel companies, group says

McGill University

The student-led movement demanding McGill University divest its holdings in fossil fuel companies has received a major boost.

Members of McGill's faculty of arts voted 85 per cent in favour of the campaign.

Divest McGill, which was started in 2012, aims to put pressure on the university's board of governors to divest its $1.4-billion endowment from the fossil fuel industry and "to reinvest into more environmentally, socially, and economically responsible alternatives," according to the group's website.

It's the first time a faculty at the university has backed the movement.

"It's just important for McGill to take a moral stand, to make its financial investments consistent with its values, but also to be part of a worldwide political action that will hopefully do what it takes," Gregory Mikkelson, an associate professor in the faculty, said Thursday.

"Maybe they didn't divest because they were worried for financial reasons, but the subsequent record shows that even on financial grounds, let alone moral and political, McGill has lost by not divesting up to this point, so we just hope that they do the right thing this time."

Stuart Cobbett, chairman of McGill University's board of governors, said the divestment issue is on the table and is currently being studied by a board committee dedicated to social responsibility issues.

"We are dealing with it. We've had numerous meetings with people from Divest McGill, and I anticipate a decision coming from the committee sometime in the first quarter of next year,"  Cobbett said.

He said the ultimate decision rests with the board of governors.

The university's endowment was valued at $1.4 billion at the end of April 2015, according to a university report

Roughly six per cent of its holdings are in fossil fuel companies, according to Divest McGill. 

The fossil fuel divestment movement started in the U.S. and has spread across North America, including such Canadian institutions as the University of Ottawa, the University of Toronto, University of British Columbia and Dalhousie University.

with files from Gabrielle Fahmy

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