Graphic rendering of the new LEED Silver Residence Hall

Graphic rendering of the new LEED Silver Residence Hall

In response to a trend of increasing enrollment and the popularity of campus living, Unity College is beginning construction of a 70 bed, suite style residence hall.
 Constructed to meet LEED Silver standards, the approximately 18,000 square foot, $4.2 million hall will house about 70 students and is expected to be ready for occupancy during the fall semester. Designed by SMRT Inc. of Portland, Maine, it will be located just within the tree line adjacent to the soccer field.


Extreme Energy Immersion | Students Wanted

This post originally appeared on We Are Power Shift. Find out more about the 2013 Power Shift Conference and youth climate convergence at their website.

Extreme Energy Immersion

There’s an impressive array of folks gathering in Minnesota right now for this weekend’s Extreme Energy Extraction Summit. They’re activists, organizers, movers and shakers of all stripes — many of them from communities on the frontlines — gathering to build a united front against the harmful impacts of extreme fossil fuel extraction. This a snapshot of the movement. Participants represent diverse organizations across sectors, seeking climate justice, community health, and real solutions for a just and sustainable energy future. Among those represented, the Expedition Education Institute is preparing for an epic road trip that will connect student climate leaders with extreme energy issues and organizers on the ground.

Expedition Education InstituteThe Expedition Education Institute is partnering with Unity College in collaboration with Catskill Mountainkeeper to launch a ten-day climate leadership immersion trip, culminating with the 2013 Power Shift conference in Pittsburgh. Participants in the Extreme Energy Immersion will visit frontline communities living with and organizing around issues of hydrofracking, mountaintop removal coal mining, and fossil fuel divestment. Guided by experienced faculty facilitators, student climate leaders will see firsthand the impacts of extreme energy extraction while working together to strengthen their own leadership and climate advocacy efforts.

We seek 18 outstanding college students committed to developing their climate leadership in a dedicated learning community on the road to Power Shift. If you’ve got what it takes to get on the bus, learn more and APPLY HERE by 5pm, September 23rd.

Additional information on our chief partners:

  • The Expedition Education Institute (EEI) offers semester-long undergraduate travel programs within North America, using the regions they visit in their retrofitted school bus as their living laboratory. Students gain an intrinsic understanding of complex issues through interactions with regional leaders, writers, scientists, business representatives, activists, educators and community leaders. EEI takes students out of the classroom and into the heart of the issues to build strength-based ecological leadership for the next generation.
  • Unity College in Maine is an environmental liberal arts college with a focus on sustainability science to address the pressing climate and environmental problems of the 21st Century. The first college to commit to fossil fuel divestment, Unity is a recognized leader in student engagement for sustainability and a frequent collaborator with leading youth climate organizations. Unity representatives have attended major recent national climate campaign events and in 2010 teamed up with Bill McKibben and 350.org for a Solar Road Trip to the White House, calling on the Obama administration to take bold climate action.

Unity Magazine: Divestment Issue

The fall 2013 issue of our Unity Magazine focuses on Unity’s leadership in the divestment movement from a wide range of perspectives.  The magazine includes articles from guest writers Bill McKibben of 350.org and Dan Apfel of the Responsible Endowments Coalition.  Read on.

UnityMag

Unity College at Forward on Climate

#ForwardOnClimate

Divestment at Unity

First To Divest

We’ve gotten a lot of deserved attention for our recent fossil fuel divestment announcement. By now there are nearly three hundred (and climbing) divestment campaigns – mostly student-led – at colleges all over the country. The aim, as you no doubt know by now, is to keep our endowment money from supporting the fossil fuel industry through stock purchases or other financial investment. As a college fully dedicated to sustainability science education that meets climate change head on, our Board of Trustees and administration have asserted that we cannot directly support an industry that has as its core business model, the destruction of the planet. You can read all about the decision to divest on Unity’s website. But let’s explore below what this actually means for the College.

Endowment Basics:  Stewardship of the endowment is a primary function of the College’s Board of Trustees; they make sure it’s invested wisely to support the central aim of the institution in perpetuity – namely, providing an education for our students. We don’t spend the endowment directly on operations at the College. Rather, we invest the money in stocks and funds, and use the profitable return on those investments to offset operating expenses. A big chunk of those expenses for us – more than $4 million – is direct financial aid for students. With our 2011 endowment gift of $10 million, we expect about half a million dollars of income from investment profits per year. So essentially, we’re investing our endowment to help pay for our students’ education.

College Finances: It may be helpful to think about Unity’s annual budget picture more broadly. Consider the revenue side (see figure below): tuition and fees, auxiliary enterprises (e.g., bookstore and dining sales), grants, gifts, and endowment investment income (green at the top) amount to about $18 million a year. As mentioned, we give more than $4 million of that in financial aid to students (black at the bottom), bringing our net revenue down to roughly $14 million annually. Over the last few years, we’ve spent just about that amount to run the school – the expense side: instruction, student services, institutional support/administration, facilities/physical plant, debt payments, and additional scholarships, etc.. $14 million in, $14 million out, a balanced budget.

Revenue and Endowment

Endowment practices impact revenue. The more money we can make off of our endowment investments, the bigger the endowment draw we can add into our annual operating budget on the revenue side – adding more to the top (green) to offset what we give back to students in institutional aid. As with many small private schools, Unity is a tuition-driven college, and the bulk of our annual operating budget comes from tuition and fees with only a small fraction coming from investment revenue. As you might imagine, colleges and universities with greater percentages of their revenue coming from endowment draw might find challenges to their traditional investment practices unsettling. After all, these Board and Foundation stewards have been doing their best to maximize return and reduce risk for their institutions – often relying on a presumed sure bet: fossil fuel investments.

Divestment at Unity: About five years ago, our Board of Trustees made a concerted effort with our investment manager to move away from what they called “big energy” investments, citing Unity’s focus on environmental and sustainability programming and an interest in pursuing clean energy investments. At the time, an estimated 10% of Unity’s endowment was invested in fossil fuels. By 2012, only 2.5% of the investment portfolio was supporting the fossil fuel industry. When we caught wind of last fall’s Do the Math Tour and related divestment campaign, we knew we had already done most of the math. A review of our current holdings against the Carbon Tracker Initiative’s list of 200 companies with the greatest fossil fuel reserves mapped out a clear path to minimize portfolio exposure to fossil fuels: avoid investments in those 200 companies, and shift exchange traded funds (ETFs) where possible to non-energy sectors. Debbie Cronin, Unity’s VP for Finance & Administration, explains:

Investments in emerging international countries cannot be moved specifically out of fossil fuels, as there are no sector-specific ETFs at this time. Thus, the endowment target is <1%, not 0, as the emerging international sector needs some fossil fuel tolerance.

The loudest recent objection to college and university divestment is a concern that moving funds from fossil fuels will negatively impact endowment returns. Unity’s experience drawing down investments in “big energy” over the last many years suggests otherwise; even through the market downturn, our returns tracked with market benchmarks. The recent Aperio Group study, “Do the Investment Math,” demonstrates that the impact on returns from screening out fossil fuels is minimal, and the risk – though higher than conventional investment – is much lower than commonly asserted by divestment skeptics.

We’re fortunate at Unity College to have a Board of Trustees committed to the sustainability mission of the college. And Cronin points out that having a flexible, proactive fund manager is key to a successful divestment effort.

For more on fossil fuel divestment and Unity’s leadership on the issue, join Sustainability Director, Jesse Pyles, and representatives from 350.org and the Responsible Endowments Coalition on February 26th for the upcoming AASHE Webinar, “Investment and Divestment: Making Sustainable Choices with Campus Endowments.”

An open letter to college and university presidents about divestment from fossil fuels

13 November 2012

Stephen Mulkey

Dear Colleagues,

On the 5th of November 2012, the Unity College Board of Trustees unanimously voted to divest our endowment from fossil fuel industries.  While one might think that this was logical for a college where Sustainability Science structures the academic program, it was not easy.   Indeed, the Board’s committee on investment carefully reviewed the potential fiduciary impact of this action.  Some members of the Board were uncomfortable with the choice to close off this source of revenue at a time when the College needs every penny.  In the end, the Board embraced our ethical obligation to stop supporting an industry that has repeatedly demonstrated a lack of commitment to future generations.  I write this letter to urge you to raise this crucially important issue with your governing body.

Why should colleges and universities divest?  It is increasingly clear that climate change will be the defining environmental factor of what will come to be seen as the environmental century.  Recent work at the National Center for Atmospheric Research indicates that our current rate of emissions will carry us beyond 7°F average global warming by 2100.  Other studies show that warming may be more than 9°F.

Either way, this level of warming is catastrophic.  The current generation of college students will experience a dangerously disrupted climate by mid-century.  We must provide strong incentives for fossil fuel industries to invest their gargantuan profits in alternative and renewable energy rather than in the development of new and increasingly marginal sources of fossil fuels.

Your institution must not be on the wrong side of this issue.  Given the recent decade of extreme temperatures and catastrophic weather, America is waking up.  In the near future, the political tide will turn and the public will demand action on climate change.   Our students are already demanding action, and we must not ignore them.  As college presidents, we are committed to the highest standards of honesty and integrity.  Failure to provide ethical leadership on an issue that has the potential to be the most profoundly negative factor in the lives of our students is unacceptable.

Financial managers may complain that divestment will be complicated and insurmountably onerous.  However, it takes no more effort to manage a portfolio for minimum exposure to fossil fuels than it does to manage for maximum market return – and these two goals can coexist.  Admittedly, markets are more complex today than in the time of divestment from companies associated with apartheid.  Depending on your particular mix of investment tools, achieving an absolute zero fossil fuel return may be difficult.  Unity College has chosen to strongly bias its portfolio away from such investments, and we are confident that we can achieve a negligible exposure to fossil fuels.  We also believe that under current market conditions our overall portfolio will generally not perform more poorly than the market average while holding true to our promise to divest.

All board members are acutely aware of their fiduciary responsibilities to the institution, and they will want assurances that investment practices bring an appropriate return.  While endowments must be managed to insure growth, we must turn away from the embedded acceptance of the notion of profits at any price.

Regardless of financial considerations, we must demand the highest ethical standards from our universities and colleges. It is ethically indefensible that an institution dedicated to the proposition of the renewal of civilization would simultaneously invest in its destruction.  In this respect, divestment is not optional.  As presidents, you do not control your institution’s investment policy, but you do have great influence.  Urge your board to take a stand and make it possible for your institution to speak from a position of integrity.

Sincerely,

Stephen Mulkey
president
Unity College
Unity, ME 04988

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