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Lakehead faculty members call for fossil fuel divestment

More than 50 faculty and staff have signed an open letter asking the president and board of governors to divest its endowment fund of investments in the fossil fuel sector.

More than 50 are asking the university to pull its fossil fuel investments out of the endowment fund

More than 50 faculty and staff of Lakehead University have signed an open letter to the president and board of governors They want Lakehead to divest its endowment fund of fossil fuel investments. Mike Bird is the Sustainability Co-ordinator for LUSU 3:54
More than 50 faculty and staff of Lakehead University have signed an open letter to the University's president and board of governors, calling on the institution to divest its endowment fund of investments in the fossil fuel sector.
Mike Bird is the Lakehead University Student Union's sustainability co-ordinator. He's helping spearhead a campaign to divest the university's endowment fund from fossil fuels investments. (supplied)

"Profiting from investment in fossil fuel companies is incompatible with Lakehead’s raison d'être," the letter reads. 
"If 'fierce pride in our students and the determination to see them succeed sets Lakehead apart,' and we are 'protecting people and the planet,' Lakehead’s investments must align with its values," it adds, quoting the University's 2013-2104 annual report. 

The signatories include professor Pamela Wakewich, director of the Centre for Rural and Northern Health Research; associate professor Pauline Sameshima, Canada Research Chair in Arts Integrated Studies; associate professor of law Karen Drake; and associate professor Teresa Socha, the chair of undergraduate studies in education.

The letter was co-written by associate professor Paul Berger, the chair of graduate studies and research in education in Lakehead's faculty of education.

'It's not great to have a university that's helping people prepare for the future that's also seriously undermining their future.'

Berger said he got involved because universities are supposed to be about the future.

David Tamblyn is the vice chair of the Lakehead board of governors. He said the board needs to weigh the pros and cons of divestment. (Twitter)

"It's not great to have a university that's helping people prepare for the future that's also seriously undermining their future by being invested in fossil fuel companies that are right now the cause of massive destruction in the world and coming destruction in the world through climate change," Berger said.

The letter is the latest initiative in a campaign that has been running for a couple of years, said Mike Bird, the Sustainability Coordinator for the Lakehead University Student Union.

He's working on the campaign in partnership with Fossil Free Lakehead.

"Our argument is that an endowment fund shouldn't just be managed with economic interests.  It should be managed also with ethical interests, Bird said.

"We're arguing that climate change is the — really it is the moral issue of our time and so it's a significant enough issue ... that its ethics should be applied to the university in how they manage their funds." 

Last year, Fossil Free Lakehead launched a student petition and delivered it to the board of governors. 

When that initiative failed, Bird said, they decided to opt for an open letter written by and for faculty. 

Board of governors says it needs to weigh the pros and cons

"While the university often does and it should listen to students, it also is more likely to take its employees and its professors and its faculty members most seriously of all, so we're targeting that group,"  Bird said.

The vice chair of Lakehead's board of governors, David Tamblyn, told CBC the board is interested in finding out more about the movement and what it can do to lessen its environmental footprint.

"We're going to look at both the pros and the cons of this and see what it would mean for the university as a whole if we were to pursue it," he said.

"What would it mean if we were to divest? What impact would that have on our total investment portfolio?" he asked.

 "In terms of looking at more environmentally friendly investments, what are the returns on looking at a portfolio that was totally green?" 
 

Tamblyn said the board would invite specialists to meet with members so they could make an informed decision.

He said there are no plans to address the matter at the board's meeting this Friday but it might be possible to put it on the agenda for its March meeting.

Tamblyn said about 7.5 per cent of the endowment fund is currently in fossil fuel investments. 

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