According to new disclosures from Michigan State University's office of investments, the university’s controversial portfolio of fossil fuel investments grew far less than similar university ventures in the 2021-2022 fiscal year, undercutting a previous justification for the environmentally dubious funds.
Compared to the previous fiscal year, oil and gas investments shrunk slightly from $88,605,621 to $88,426,565 — a less than one percent change. The totality of MSU’s “investment pools” — the category which contains the fossil fuel portfolio and other private funds and investments — grew by 8%. This came amid major decline across much of the financial market.
Whether the university’s fossil fuel funds continued to decline into this fiscal year is unclear: these new disclosures were posted in February, but only cover June 2021-June 2022. MSU’s office of investments would not provide more recent information about its portfolio.
While the oil and gas investments occupy a tiny portion of the university’s endowment, they’ve been a subject of much debate and outrage. Members of the environmental student-advocacy group Sunrise MSU have repeatedly petitioned and protested the investments; The University council, an assembly of students, faculty, and administrators which passed non-binding resolutions, voted last month to demand higher ethical standards in future investments and an overall more transparent process from the board committee which oversees them.
The university and board have defended the portfolio by saying they have little choice in the matter. In 2018, MSU divested from its public fossil fuel funds but was left with the current holdings – which are tied up in private investment agreements or controlled by asset managers. They’re all set to expire by 2031, and a university spokesperson said in Sept. 2022 that leaving them early could lead to breach of contract litigation potentially ending in settlements to oil and gas companies larger than the investments themselves.
MSU has publicly committed to not invest further in fossil fuels after the expiration of current funds.
The portfolio’s critics have urged the university to divest despite the potential consequences.
“The point we've made consistently over the past year is that we believe that MSU is not lying when they say the investments will run out in 2031,” Sunrise member Jesse Estrada-White said in Sept. 2022. “We believe them when they say that, our point has been divest now. We cannot wait until 2031. So it's divest now, divest fully and reinvest.”