UC Retirement Plan holds bonds in 2 companies building Dakota Access Pipeline

Originally published on January 16, 2017 for The Daily Californian

The University of California Retirement Plan, or UCRP, currently holds bonds in Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics, the two companies that are building the Dakota Access Pipeline.

UCRP is the university’s pension plan for its employees, and the investment funds for this plan are managed by the Office of the Chief Investment Officer of the Regents, according to UC spokesperson Ricardo Vazquez. The university’s investment came as a shock to students and faculty at UC Berkeley, some of whom have been advocating divestment in the pipeline. Many people across the country have been protesting the pipeline in the interest of protecting the Dakota Sioux Tribe’s reservation.

“The UC Office of the Chief Investment Officer considers environmental sustainability, social responsibility and governance systematically as one of many metrics in its risk evaluation processes,” Vazquez said in an email. “In undertaking the duties and performance as fiduciaries for the UC system community, we consider a wide variety of financial and risk factors in our activities in bond markets.”

Phenocia Bauerle, the director of the Native American Student Development on campus, was among those in the campus community who were surprised by the university’s investment. Bauerle said as an employee, she never thought about where her retirement funds were being invested and had “blind faith” that the university would be less invested in controversial issues.

“It’s not something that I feel good about being a UC employee,” Bauerle said. “It’s something that’s bothersome to those of us who have an issue with the pipeline and work for the university.”

Bauerle said she hopes that more faculty on campus will take a stand against the pipeline, especially since their own pension funds have been invested in it.

Campus researcher Elie Katzenson, who works with Students for Standing Rock at Berkeley to protest the construction of the pipeline, also expressed disappointment at the university’s investment. Katzenson largely works on collecting donations for those protesting at the Standing Rock reservation.

“In early December, we organized a strong campaign urging people to divest their accounts from banks that were also participating in the pipeline,” Katzenson said. “So learning that the pension system did have these investments … it’s just another indicator that we need to relocate our money.”

Melissa Cunningham, an electronic payment coordinator at UC Berkeley, is Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux — her grandmothers are of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and were born in Standing Rock. Cunningham was extremely shocked to hear of UCRP’s investment and felt greatly saddened by the news.

“To know that my pension is invested in something that hurt my people. There is some shame I am carrying now. I am proud to work for the UC but I feel like I am selling my people out,” Cunningham said in an email. “To have my future hindering and hurting my peoples future, now that is really hard to swallow.”

Cunningham said she and a co-worker are going to try to contact the UC Office of the President to see if there are plans to divest.

While Bauerle doesn’t believe that the university is taking a stance on the issue through these investments, she said the investments show that the DAPL issue isn’t on the university’s radar.

“I’m going to try to reach out and see if we can get some movement to bring it to the UC’s attention,” Bauerle said. “I would like to see it be a collective effort. I would like to see a collective voice of people who stand against the pipeline and in opposition of what it stands for.”

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