Students voting in an online campus referendum this week overwhelmingly supported a move to end University of Illinois investments in coal.
URBANA — Students voting in an online campus referendum this week overwhelmingly supported a move to end University of Illinois investments in coal.
The activist group UIUC Beyond Coal gathered 4,238 signatures to place a question before students in an online ballot asking: "Do you support the University of Illinois' endowment removing investments in coal by the year 2017?"
A total of 2,020 students voted, or about 4.6 percent of the approximately 43,400 eligible, according to the Student Election Commission. Almost 86 percent, or 1,730 voted yes, and 290 voted no.
"This victory is a huge milestone for our campaign," UIUC Beyond Coal Co-President Drew O'Bryan, said in a release. "It shows the support we have from the student body and gives us the collective voice of thousands of supporters as we move forward."
UI officials have said the university has no direct investments in coal companies, but it's not ready to make any changes to its investment policy.
"The university has a fiduciary responsibility to the state and all of the constituents of the university, and I don't anticipate that there would be a change in the university's policy," spokesman Tom Hardy said Friday.
The university's endowment, valued at $1.7 billion, is invested for long-term use and provides income for scholarships, professorships and other programs.
The Beyond Coal group said the proposals would remove UI investments from 15 major coal-mining and coal utility companies.
UI officials say the university has no direct investments in those companies and at most about $8 million invested indirectly through stock market index funds.
The UI's active endowment is about $375 million, and no more than 1 percent to 2 percent of that is invested in those companies through index funds, which are tied to general stock market performance, officials said.
The rest of the UI's $1.7 billion endowment is managed by the UI Foundation, which also has no direct investments in coal, though it may also have some indirectly invested through index or managed funds, officials said.
The referendum follows a similar resolution passed by the Illinois Student Senate a year ago. Both are advisory; divestment would have to be approved by UI trustees.
O'Bryan said the group will continue to press trustees for change.
The UIUC Beyond Coal divestment campaign began in fall 2011, after the university agreed to stop using coal at the Abbott Power Plant by 2017. It was among the first divestment campaigns in the country, a movement that now includes more than 300 universities, according to the group.
Beyond Coal argues that mining coal destroys natural landscapes and takes farmland out of production, and that combustion of coal in power plants affects human health and contributes to global warming.