Students at Victoria College are petitioning the college to divest from fossil fuels after U of T’s announcement this fall of its plans for full divestment by 2030. As one of U of T’s federated colleges, Vic is financially independent and, therefore, not part of U of T’s divestment plan.

The petition calls on the Victoria University Board of Regents to divest their holdings in fossil fuel companies and to stop making new investments of any kind in the fossil fuel industry. It says that the evidence has been clear that fossil fuel companies have no place in society, due to their continued detrimental environmental and social impacts.

“Supporting these companies in any way is inconsistent with the commitment to keep global warming under 2°C or to recognizing the rights of the Indigenous and other marginalized peoples whose lands are stolen for and poisoned by, fossil fuel extraction, and who have and continue to resist such extraction,” reads the petition.

The petition calls Vic’s inaction “inexcusable and disgraceful.” Divestment pledges have spread to universities worldwide, including multiple Canadian universities.

“Victoria University cannot be an exception to this rapidly developing rule of divestment, and continued inaction on this issue will only serve to demonstrate that Vic is falling further and further behind the times,” reads the petition. It further notes that no federated colleges have shown intention to divest, and that Vic taking the lead would encourage other federated colleges to follow suit.

Vic responds

In an email to The Varsity, Victoria College spokesperson Liz Taylor Surani praised the student advocates. “Victoria University is proud of the strong student advocacy supporting sustainability, and we are in alignment with the need to play a vital role in addressing climate change and respecting our environment. Strong student voices globally on this critical issue will help shape our future,” she wrote.

Surani noted that the Board of Regents is responsible for managing the college’s investments, and relevant decisions are being guided by their Guidelines for Incorporating Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) Factors into Investment Decisions. She wrote that the investment committee will conduct its annual review of the ESG guidelines in the coming months, and any updated investment decisions would reflect the reviewed guidelines.

“All decisions are informed by the recognition that the Board of Regents holds the fiduciary responsibility for the long-term viability of Victoria University,” she wrote.

Students “tired” of inaction

In an email to The Varsity, Jerico Raguindin, President of Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council, wrote that students have constantly been calling on Vic to announce its divestment plan, and their calls have gained support from faculty, staff, and community members. He noted that students are committed to fighting the climate crisis and supporting the actions that are part of the effort.

“However, it’s very important to say that divestment organizing has happened in the past and continues to this day, and this makes students very tired with the lack of action,” wrote Raguindin.

Raguindin mentioned that this action can pressure Vic to divest, given U of T’s divestment plans. He wrote that student organizers at Vic are dedicated to working within the university governance structure to make the change happen.

He added that the petition has been organized by student representatives at the Board of Regents, including himself. “As students who are equal voting members in the Board of Regents, we are committed to these efforts, and the petition is an important part to strengthening our case to our fellow board members.”

“I think what students would be most receptive to and benefit the most from is for Vic admin to release a timeline and list of actions it plans to take,” Raguindin noted. “In my opinion, the lack of transparency and accountability is what allows Vic to avoid these pressing matters and stay silent. A plan and report co-created by students for students to fulfill Vic’s strategic plan is the next concrete step to this.”

Raguindin believes that Vic should show leadership among the federated colleges on divestment and other climate actions, especially since it has a reputation for being progressive and also has the most financial resources. “Divestment is not just a direct rebuke of fossil fuel companies but a loud and clear statement that Vic is committed to real and tangible climate action,” he wrote.