S tudents at college campuses in Colorado, including the University of Colorado, are urging school administrators to consider divesting from fossil fuel companies.
The campaigns are part of the Go Fossil Free campaign launched by environmentalist and 350.org founder Bill McKibben earlier this year.
Students at CU-Boulder sent a letter to CU President Bruce Benson and the Board of Regents urging them to freeze any new investment plans in fossil fuel companies, and divest from all others within five years.
CU system spokesman Ken McConnellogue said Benson has received the letter, and will be drafting a response soon.
"We've had similar requests, not about fossil fuels, but about investments in South Africa in years past, so we always listen to these requests and weigh them before we determine how we want to respond," McConnellogue said.
The campaign was intentionally modeled after the anti-apartheid movement of the 1980s, said 350.org spokeswoman Micah Parkin. Universities and other institutions divested from companies doing business with South Africa, and the organization hopes climate change will prompt similar action in the next five years.
CU-Boulder participated in the anti-apartheid movement during the mid-1980s, according to student government documents.
On January 31, 1985, CU-Boulder's student government executive council passed Resolution 106 supporting "the efforts . . . of divesting University monies from United States Corporation(s) that invest in South Africa."
Parkin said nearly 200 campuses across the country have started fossil fuel divestment campaigns, including 14 schools in Colorado.
The CU systems campaign team discovered via the CU foundation's 2010-2011 annual report that around $24 million of the university's $1 billion endowment is invested in oil and gas companies.
Simn Mostafa, an environmental engineering graduate student at CU-Boulder, said that $24 million figure is conservative because of a large chunk of the foundation's investments are in hedge funds and mutual funds.
"There's no way of telling what kinds of investments those include," Mostafa, 27, said.
Mostafa said the campaign has received no word from the university or the foundation since it delivered its letter Dec. 11. He said he knows it will take time, but he's hoping with enough student support, the university and foundation will listen. A petition circulating CU campuses has around 1,000 signatures thus far, he said.
"We want to start a conversation that we haven't had before," he said. "We've talked about creating greener campuses, greening the UMC (University Memorial Center) and buying from local suppliers. These are really great, important steps. We want to expand that to every arena of the way the university is managed."
Mostafa said that social or environmental ethics clauses are missing from the university's investment guidelines. He said he hopes the campaign will change that.
"A lot of people in this community are concerned with those types of issues," he said. "We feel our investment portfolio doesn't reflect those principles."
Student Environmental Action Coalition Director Christina Gosnell said around 20 students at CU-Boulder have been active in the campaign. She and her peers, Gosnell said, are in a position to make their voices heard and enact real change on their campuses.
"Students really do have a unique voice and don't have as many barriers to speak out," she said. --Follow Sarah Kuta on Twitter: @SarahKuta.