Students across the University of Nebraska system have called on administrators to fully divest from fossil fuel companies, part of a nationwide movement in higher education.
Ted Carter, NU's system president, said achieving that goal would be difficult in a short time frame.
There's no way to flip a switch and immediately divest, he said, as investments are often intertwined across various funds in complicated ways.
But Carter, who is wrapping up his first year at Nebraska, said the university will begin looking for opportunities to do so, citing the passion students have demonstrated for the issue.
"It's obviously a topic our students — and I — care a lot about," Carter said. "We are actively engaged on the issue. Doing nothing about this is not an option."
On Friday, during a meeting of the NU Board of Regents, students once again addressed their elected leaders, imploring them to consider an immediate and full divestment from fossil fuels.
"The University of Nebraska has a moral and fiduciary responsibility to do so," said Christopher Dethlefs, a second-year student at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Dethlefs, along with Conor O'Neill, a first-year master's student at UNMC, and Zee Elmer, a third-year student at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, asked regents to take immediate action they said would advance the university's mission to transform lives.
Student governments on all NU system campuses have called for divestment.
Carter, responding to the students, said the university is listening.
On Friday, he said NU would begin publishing an annual report on its Fund N investments, which include donations and gifts made directly to the university, to promote "full transparency" about its investments.
According to Chris Kabourek, NU's vice president for business and finance, the total value of Fund N investments was more than $330.8 million at the end of September.
Of that amount, a little more than $9.1 million, or 2.8%, is held in energy sector companies.
Roughly half that amount — about $4.6 million, or 1.4% of the total fund — is invested in companies on the Carbon Underground 200 list, which includes the top 100 publicly-traded coal and top 100 oil and gas holdings.
Carter also named Kabourek as NU's system-wide sustainability officer, who will be responsible for coordinating efforts between campuses, each of which has its own environmental and sustainability plan in place.
NU will also look at its policies that guide how endowment funds are invested. While the current goal is to maximize the profit of each fund, Carter said the university may consider adding language that would look at the environmental and social impacts, as well as corporate governance of those it invests in.
Regents could consider a policy directing the University of Nebraska Foundation to consider both the profitability and sustainability of future investments, Regent Bob Phares said.
Other Nebraska universities have already pledged to divest from fossil fuels.
Doane University announced it would fully divest from fossil fuels by 2030, while Creighton University earlier this year reduced its investment in coal, oil and gas companies from 8.9% to 5.7%.
And in February, UNL student leaders joined others from across the Big Ten Conference calling for more "climate-conscious investments" as student members of an organization called Sustain UNL began a campaign to lobby regents.
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