Though people are drawn to college for a multitude of reasons, the fundamental reason students attend a university is to better their future; financially, intellectually or otherwise.
Universities are able to influence our society and culture in profound ways — not just because they produce millions of young graduates every year but because of the great financial power that stems from their multimillion and multibillion-dollar endowments.
The intricacies of the University’s finances may seem entirely unrelated to issues of politics, morality and social change, but the massive wealth held by the University, along with the investments it makes to preserve that wealth, has large implications for the future — and they're not all good.
The LSU Foundation is vested with the great responsibility of managing the University's investing funds.
Sara Whittaker, the assistant vice president of communications and Marketing at the LSU Foundation, says the foundation’s “ultimate goal is to protect the purchasing power of that money and make sure it is available to LSU.”
The 2019 financial audit reveals that the LSU Foundation has $150 million tied up in corporate stocks, common stocks and indexed mutual funds, plus an additional $192 million in corporate debt obligations (essentially bonds in corporations).
Where exactly does that money go?
The answer is not a simple one. As Ms. Whittaker explained to me, it is difficult to quantify investments on an individual or even industry level, as pools of investments are grouped together and subject to change throughout the year.
While exact amounts to exact corporations cannot be labeled, two things are certain: first, that the University has invested some amount of money into fossil fuel companies, and second, that over the course of the last few years, there have been conversations at the foundation about the stability of such investments.
When asked if these conversations also included topics of social responsibility, Ms. Whittaker stated: “Our goal, our fiduciary responsibility, is to invest that money wisely on LSU’s behalf. So that’s it — that’s our goal... Fundamentally, that is our role.”
That leaves us to grapple with a difficult question: what constitutes a "wise" investment?
It is doubtless that the people at the LSU Foundation do extraordinary work on behalf of this community. The larger critique here is directed at the paradigm that exists at most universities across America: the idea that a wise investment is simply one that preserves or increases the value of a donation.
That premise as it relates to investments towards the fossil fuel industry is questionable. By investing in fossil fuels, the University is propping up corporations that profit off the destruction of the Earth, lobby Congress into inaction and actively spread misinformation about climate change.
Climate change is not only a grave threat to Louisiana's future, but it is a present-day reality in the state. Coastal erosion has already displaced Louisianans and the rapid escalation of storms in the Gulf of Mexico has ravaged entire towns. These climate events have and will create great financial strife for millions in this state.
Climate change is not a far-fetched theory of the future but a reality of today.
Fossil fuel investments borrow from tomorrow to finance today. While perhaps these investments succeed in maintaining the purchasing power of particular donations, they provide stability to corporations that are going to be detrimental to the economic future of places like coastal Louisiana.
It is time the University recognizes the duty it has to make socially responsible investments — investments that do not jeopardize their students' futures.
Our university has not acted with malice but rather with the same mind-frame as most other institutions of higher learning: the belief that its finances are amoral. Its ties with these companies are inherently full of ethical quandaries, and it is time the University recognizes those nagging complexities.
The University pushes students to be conscious of the impact they have on the world around them. Now, the University must awaken its own consciousness on the issue of moral investments. The educational and cultural power the University holds is great; it is time to use that power to lead, wisely.
Claire Sullivan is an 18-year-old coastal environmental science freshman from Southbury, CT.