Over the past 11 days, students associated with Climate Justice UofT have moved into our iconic Old Vic building, advocating for divestment of fossil fuels. I have gone to check on them regularly, discussing the issue with students and sharing my support for their cause. I’ve let them know that I am proud of their strong student advocacy supporting sustainability and believe that Victoria University has a vital role in advocating for climate action.
Throughout their time studying at Victoria University, students are encouraged to use their voices and consider their roles in making the world a better place. This is what these students are doing.
I also share with students that while I’m personally in support of actions that advocate for climate action, I also articulate the importance of due diligence and process as the Board of Regents considers how to move forward while balancing fiduciary responsibilities. While I appreciate that progress is often not as fast as we would like, I must recognize and commend the hard work of our Board members, including our Board student representatives and administration who have taken on this task with a duty of care.
To clarify some misconceptions, I reiterate that Victoria University does not directly invest in fossil fuels. We invest a portion of our general endowment (approximately $250M in assets) into pooled funds. These pooled funds are independently managed by external investment managers and invest in companies from various sectors of the economy at the discretion of the investment managers. Only a small portion, approximately 3.5 per cent, of these pooled fund assets have exposure to fossil fuels, and depending on market conditions, represents between six and nine million of the pooled funds investments. We use these funds to support outstanding academic offerings, university operations and signature learning experiences.
I am always energized and inspired when students ask questions related to this issue, which is why I’ve held several town halls and formal meetings with students at Vic U on this issue.
We will continue to support the student protest ensuring that safety and security measures are in place, and have the expectation that students adhere to all fire and health and safety regulations while they are present in Old Vic. We are collaborating with Toronto Fire Services on this issue and have informed students that they must remove physical objects such as tents that are obstructing pathways, entrances and exits. The building was not meant for overnight occupancy and does not have the same safety features as residential buildings. We have requested that students restrict their protest to daytime hours and hope that they demonstrate a shared concern for safety by agreeing to this request.
I look forward to seeing an ongoing contribution to sustainability efforts by students on our campus.
Rhonda N. McEwen
President and Vice-Chancellor
Victoria University in the University of Toronto