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DSG Senate unanimously passes resolution calling for Duke to divest from fossil fuel investments

Duke Student Government Senate voted unanimously at its Wednesday meeting to pass a resolution calling for the University's endowment to be divested from fossil fuels by 2024.

The resolution states that the Senate supports a potential resolution from the Advisory Committee on Investment Responsibility, which calls on the Board of Trustees to commit to “divesting the Duke University endowment as well as all other assets from fossil fuels, with total divestment completed by Jan. 1, 2024." 

The Duke Endowment reached a record-high $8.5 billion this year. Combined with the school's other assets, Duke leverages about $17 billion.

Senior John Desan, director of environmental affairs, explained the reasoning behind the resolution. He referenced the recent United Nations report on climate change, which advocates for rapid action to prevent the Earth from warming by 1.5 degrees Celsius.

"We're really at a turning point here, with the temperature increasing at an exponential speed," Desan said. "Divesting will help keep our planet cool." 

Junior Liv McKinney, vice president of services and sustainability, noted that Duke University has also committed to being climate neutral by 2024.

"At the time we made this commitment, [it] was super aggressive and on the forefront of sustainability on college campuses," McKinney said. "This resolution is to match that [with] divestment by 2024 and would be equally as influential and just as forward-thinking, which we need to keep doing as an institution." 

Other student groups, including the Graduate and Professional Student Council and the Undergraduate Environmental Affairs Committee, have recently passed similar resolutions. If the Advisory Committee on Investment Responsibility approves its own resolution, President Vincent Price will present it to the Board of Trustees, which will vote on whether to commit to divesting Duke's endowment and other investments from fossil fuels.

If Duke commits to divestment, it will join academic institutions such as Pitzer College, which committed to divesting itself from fossil fuels, as a part of the global "divestment movement."

Duke's commitment would have a two-fold impact, senior Ethan Miller—a representative from the Duke Climate Coalition—said during the meeting.

"One [impact] is the symbolic message...saying we're a part of this community that wants to ensure that we are being kind leaders," Miller said. "The second is the market impact, which is discouraging those companies from continuing their operations in the future."

Desan singled out BP and Shell in particular as companies whose leaders have expressed nervousness about the divestment movement's impact on their profits.

During questioning, senators expressed concern over the magnitude of Duke's investment in fossil fuels and divestment's impact on the size of the endowment. 

Miller said that the specifics of Duke's investment portfolio are classified but that the school's investment in fossil fuels is "significant." He said that he could not predict the impact of divesting on the school's finances. 

According to the published notes from an April meeting of the ACIR, Lawrence Baxter—David T. Zhang professor of the practice of law and chairman of the committee—explained the difference between Duke's direct and indirect investments in relation to the control that DUMAC has over them. 

"Direct investments are only a very small portion of the total investment portfolio Duke owns and divestment from fossil fuel companies would make only a minor impact," the April notes state.

No senator openly opposed the resolution, which passed in a unanimous vote. 

In other business:

Treasurer Nick Santangelo, a junior, gave a presentation about DSG’s finances during the 2018-2019 school year. He reminded the Senate that they can use the $15,000 DSG executive discretionary fund to cover overdrafts by student groups, as well as broke down the methods by which DSG’s expenses are reimbursed. 

The Senate voted to raise the DSG portion of the undergraduate student activities fee from $62.25 to $63.93 to account for inflation.

The Senate approved $15,979 in SOFC funding, including $2057 for Inside Joke’s Medium Rare Newbies event, $7450 for Blue Devils United to host a speaker, $3872 for Duke Africa to host a speaker and $2600 for Duke MSA’s Aqidah Lecture Series. The Senate provisionally forgave $767 in debt accrued by DevilTHON: Duke Dance Marathon.

The Senate recognized Duke Crux, an undergraduate journal of Christian thought, and de-chartered 35 inactive student organizations. The Senate recognized the charter of the Hong Kong Student Association with the provision that the HKSA includes a non-discrimination statement in its constitution. 

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