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UB Council member: Foundation harmed university reputation with investment

The University at Buffalo Foundation harmed the reputation of the university by investing in "companies that threaten environmental sustainability," the student representative on the UB Council said this week.

Mike Brown also called upon university leadership to issue a statement opposing foundation investments "that contradict its values and sully its good name."

Brown made his remarks Monday at the Council's December meeting. UB President Satish K. Tripathi, who was seated across from Brown at a board room table inside Capen Hall, did not offer a response to Brown's pointed statement. Tripathi serves on the board of the UB Foundation, a private nonprofit entity that manages contributions on behalf of the public university and holds $940 million in investment assets. Other members of the Council, a public body of mostly gubernatorial appointees who oversee and advise the university president, also said nothing about Brown's remarks.

A university spokesman said after the meeting that Tripathi had demonstrated to students his commitment to sustainability with a statement this past June.

"We are taking clear, measurable action to respond to the increasing pace and intensity of global climate change," Tripathi said in the statement.

Tripathi stands by the statement, said the spokesman, John DellaContrada.

Brown's comments came less than a month after the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists released more data from the Paradise Papers, leaked documents mostly from the Appleby law firm showing how huge amounts of money are invested, often secretly, in offshore tax havens. The structured data release on Nov. 17 showed that the UB Foundation used an offshore venture capital fund to invest in companies involved in fracking and fossil fuel production and supply.

Its foundation invests in fracking as UB talks sustainability

The UB Foundation was among more than 100 higher-education institutions identified that were growing endowments through the use of entities incorporated outside the U.S. The venture capital fund it used, EnCap Flatrock Midstream Fund III-C, was registered in the Cayman Islands.

UB student, faculty and staff groups have all called upon the UB Foundation to divest from fossil fuel companies.

Brown was among several students, faculty and staff who met Nov. 8 with UB Foundation executive director Edward P. Schneider to discuss investment issues. Brown and others in the meeting said Schneider had indicated the foundation did not directly invest in fossil fuel firms, but had a complex portfolio of funds that might at times include holdings in such companies. Schneider did not mention the EnCap Flatrock Midstream Fund.

The Fund invests in companies such as Stakeholder Midstream, which serves oil and gas "producers operating in unconventional shale plays across North America," and Rangeland Energy, which develops, owns and operates "crude oil, refined product and related midstream assets in growing production areas."

Brown said he was surprised by the information in the Paradise Papers.

"The UB Foundation describes itself as playing a vital role in helping UB establish and enhance and expand its global reputation, that it is committed to operating in a manner consistent with the policies of the university and that its financial practices are a reflection of the values of the communities it serves," he said. "By investing in companies that threaten environmental sustainability, the foundation has not only failed to promote UB's values but also actively harmed UB's reputation by undermining those values on environmental sustainability."

Brown was elected by fellow students to serve a year-long term. The other Council members are appointed by the governor to a term of seven years.

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