Following an official proposal presented to the Board of Trustees for UT to divest from fossil fuel companies, the Coalition for Responsible Investment received a rejection letter in response on Dec. 13, 2013.
The board presented SGA and the coalition with a six-page letter outlining reasons for the rejection with research explaining their rationale for opposing specific points in the divestment proposal.
"Given all the time and resources spent, we want to provide thorough explanation for our rejection of this proposal," Charles Peccolo, UT's treasurer and chief financial officer, said.
Daniel Lawhon, a junior in physics and electrical engineering, said he believes the rejection letter is a helpful tool in deciding the coalition's next step.
"It was disappointing that the administration rejected the decision made by 80 percent of student voters," Lawhon said. "But I appreciate the time and effort invested into explaining their rejection.
"It gives us a starting place for amending our proposal to take care of concerns the administration may have."
The letter included two main points for the board's rejection: hesitancy to introduce potentially controversial goals to the mission of the endowment and a perceived burden a new subcommittee would place on the Investment Office.
Despite this reasoning, David Hayes, a junior in supply chain management, said he sees the proposal as less of a political issue than a human rights one.
"They had talked about the controversial nature of divestment, but in our eyes, there's nothing controversial about it," Hayes said. "There are people in communities afflicted by the fossil fuel industry. There are people dying, and on top of all that, we have climate change happening.
"All this stuff is not debatable. It's not controversial. It's actually happening."
Hayes said he was surprised by certain specifics of the board's response, particularly that the proposed subcommittee was not more positively received.
"We had proposed to make a committee to advise the investment advising committee about ethical and sustainable investment practices," Hayes said. "They seemed receptive to the idea, but in the rejection letter, they kind of threw that away."
The coalition hopes the university will reconsider accepting the divestment proposal as part of UT's mission to be carbon neutral by 2061.
Hayes hopes an acceptance of the proposal would work to match the university's endowment with this mission.
"They look at an endowment for one purpose: to make money," Hayes said. "So they are tentative to use it in any sort of way to be used as a tool in any sort of social issues. We see what they're saying, but at the same time, we go to a university that has pledged to lower our carbon footprint and become more environmentally friendly.
"As a school, we've already pledged to make ourselves more sustainable, and as such, our endowment should reflect our views."
Lawhon said he hopes gaining faculty support will make the campaign a bigger issue on campus.
"The rejection letter underscores the importance of the faculty weighing in on the debate," Lawhon said. "While students have shown strong support for divestment, we need to show that all stakeholders — students, staff and faculty alike — are in support of divestment."
Members are also looking to open up communication by using social media to make their message more accessible.
"It's about using all the tools we have available," Hayes said. "We're still going to petition because if you can get someone to stop and have a conversation with you, that's huge. We're going to try to utilize social media, get our Facebook page going, and bring up our presence in classes and clubs."
In its conclusion, the letter stated a specific need for continued investment in fossil fuel companies due to benefits those funds bring to the university.
"In summary, we recommend rejecting SEN-01-13, because it fails to give proper consideration to the endowment's sole purpose of generating returns in excess of costs," Peccolo wrote. "Last year, 90 percent of the endowment's payout went to supportive scholarships, instruction, and research. Eliminating a broad segment of the market from investment could hinder future funding of these endeavors."
Despite the letter, coalition officials said they still plan to increase campus awareness on divestment while hoping for a more positive response from the Board of Trustees in the future.
"Last semester the coalition collected a record number of petitions and grew our membership into the hundreds," Lawhon said. "This semester we are planning to harness those hundreds of students to engage with thousands more, all with the goal of demonstrating strong campus support that is not going anywhere."