On April 13, the Victoria University Board of Regents (BOR) approved a motion to divest the university’s endowment portfolio from fossil fuel companies by 2030. The move came on the 18th day of Climate Justice UofT — an activist group on campus — occupying the Victoria College building, also known as Old Vic. In response to the announcement, Climate Justice UofT criticized the board’s lack of transparency and demanded that the university divest by 2025.   

In 2021, U of T President Meric Gertler announced that U of T would divest from fossil fuels by 2030. The university’s decision did not include U of T’s three federated colleges — Victoria University, University of Trinity College, and the University of St. Michael’s College — which operate independent endowments.

Victoria University is the first federated college at U of T to divest its endowment from fossil fuels.

Board of Regents’ decision

Victoria University invests a portion of its $250 million endowment in pooled funds, which external managers invest in multiple companies. According to a statement from Victoria University President Rhonda McEwen, between six and nine million dollars of these pooled funds finance fossil fuel companies.

According to a statement released by the college on April 13, the BOR began discussing divestment in 2018. That year, the BOR launched an Environmental, Social, and Governance committee to develop a sustainability investment policy. The BOR began formally analyzing connections between the college’s endowment and fossil fuel companies after U of T’s divestment announcement in October 2021. After consultations with fund managers, the college’s financial consultant, and “other subject matter experts” conducted between 2021 and 2023, the BOR’s Executive Committee recommended that the college divest from fossil fuel companies by 2030, in line with U of T’s commitment. 

In the statement, McEwen noted the role of student activism in advocating for divestment: “I am immensely proud of Vic students, some of whom served on our Board, who have been advocating for this issue for many years.” The statement does not mention the 18-day occupation by Climate Justice UofT, which demanded Victoria University’s fossil fuel divestment leading up to the BOR decision.

Climate Justice UofT’s response

In response to the BOR’s decision, Climate Justice UofT released a statement calling for the college to accelerate its timeline and divest from fossil fuels by 2025. The group highlighted an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report stating that, to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, “global greenhouse gasses [must] peak before 2025.” According to the World Meteorological Organization’s Secretary-General, exceeding the 1.5 degrees Celsius target set by the Paris Agreement would cause climate impacts “increasingly harmful for people and indeed the entire planet.” Such impacts include complete coral reef die-off, intensified storms, and a much greater increase in sea-levels. Climate Justice UofT also noted that many pooled funds without exposure to fossil fuel companies currently exist. 

Climate Justice UofT also criticized the BOR’s lack of transparency. According to the statement, the BOR held their meeting online and did not admit students or professors to the meeting “despite it purportedly being public.” The Varsity could not confirm these allegations at time of publication. According to the Victoria University Act, which governs the BOR, “The meetings of the Board shall be open.” 

Climate Justice UofT announced that they would end their occupation of Old Vic, which they claim was the longest occupation of a university building in U of T history, on the evening of April 13. The statement highlighted the role of student activism in pushing for divestment, including the occupation, a divestment petition that received more than 750 signatures, and demands for divestment beginning in 2018. 

“This is a student win,” they wrote. “Do not let the administration claim it for themselves.”

The Varsity requested comment from Victoria University, which did not provide a response in time for publication.