divestment signs

I don’t like speculating in my editorials, but this week I just can’t resist the urge.

I wholeheartedly believe that Trent’s Board of Governors intends to divest from fossil fuels if it can find a way to do so.

It may not be number one on the priority list, and it may not happen at the rate student leaders would like to see it happen at, but I don’t doubt for a second that it’s something the Board is seriously considering and would like to find a way to do.

Last week’s divestment rally saw protesters enter the Board meeting, welcomed with open arms by the Board. Literally. They were waved in by chair Bryan Davies.

The Board doesn’t shy away from discussion, even when it’s a lost cause. Last year then-Vice President Campaigns and Equity Braden Freer approached the Board about a tuition freeze. They welcomed him to the meeting, listened to his presentation, and told him “sorry, can’t do it, here’s why.”

After the Board welcomed Sustainable Trent members Julian Tennent-Riddell and Calvin Beauchesne just over a year ago to argue that Trent should divest from fossil fuels, they never told them no.

In fact, both Robin Dines and then-Chair Anne Wright both told them “I’ll give it serious consideration.”

The Board is the highest governing body at Trent. They don’t shy away from saying a flat-out, very clear “no” when that’s the answer they have to give. They have no reason to do so.

It’s been a year since Sustainable Trent’s presentation and they still haven’t said it.

It’s a fact that the Board has been openly sympathetic to the campaign. A press release following their June 2014 meeting confirmed that the Board had “begun a serious examination of the issue.”

The same release stated that members of the board “have participated in the Responsible Investing Association Conference (Toronto, May 26-28, 2014) and the Ontario Universities Pension Symposium (Waterloo, May 6, 2014) to gain insights on the issues and engage with specialists in the field.”

At the January 31, 2014 presentation, Governor Andrew Stewart inquired about whether or not there were other institutions the board could model their divestment approach off of.

That’s not the type of question a Board member would ask if the general view was unsupportive.

At the rally last Friday, the Board echoed their previous sentiment that it was something they are seriously considering.

Their lack of a definitive response is largely due to the complexity of the university’s financial portfolio. Managing something like that is no easy task. I may discuss it in simple terms, but divestment isn’t as easy as merely flipping a switch. After all, that’s why there’s a whole Board looking after these sorts of duties.

I would say the most compelling arguments before the Board are the fourth and fifth of Sustainable Trent’s five-point presentation: that divestment is aligned with Trent’s core values and that it would further the school’s reputation as an environmentally progressive place.

At that 2014 Board meeting, Julian Tennent-Riddell quoted the very mission statement the Board approved in 2010: Trent’s mission is to “foster sustainability, in its environmental, social and economic dimensions, on our campuses and in all aspects of our work.”

“It would be a bold move to take, but it would add to that image that we’re known for,” said Beauchesne regarding Trent’s reputation.

As important as the other three are from an ethical standpoint, it’s really these last two that hit home from the perspective of a governing board.

According to the Board’s bylaws, specifically section 6 – Standard of Care, each Governor is required to “act honestly and in good faith with a view to the best interests of the University.” This is standard practice on any Board of any corporation. It doesn’t matter what your personal views are; you’re here to do what’s best for Trent.

Following our mission statement and making decisions that further an established, acknowledged, and accepted reputation are well within that purview.

It’s still the case that if Trent divests from fossil fuels we would be the first university in the country to do so.

It’s very much the case that Sustainable Trent wants that. I want that, and, according to a 2013 referendum, the majority of Trent students want that.

Don’t let a lengthy decision-making process fool you: there is no doubt in my mind that Trent’s highest governing body stands with us in wanting it too.