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Letter to the Editor: We must put an end to the Comprehensive Energy Management ‘problem’

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A university administrator got caught up in a revealing Freudian slip when she referred to the Comprehensive Energy Management “problem” in correspondence with United Students Against Sweatshops activists. What started as “plan” became “project” when University President Michael Drake so flippantly asked, “What plan?” after being interrupted at his State of the University address. And now it seems the “project” has become nothing short of a “problem” for administrators and the rest of the Buckeye community alike.

I’ll wager that for every Lantern reader who is sick of hearing about the Comprehensive Energy Management plan, there is at least one of us who is tired of writing about it. But the fact remains: Privatization attempts like the 2012 QIC-CampusParc debacle, and now the proposed 50-year energy management sellout, pose very serious threats to the welfare of our community. Deals like these represent a host of dark forces that are acting on our university — I’m pointing at privatization and corporatization in particular — the manifestations of which must be resisted.  

Those of us here at OSU certainly know a thing or two about the disastrous effects of conflating corporate practices with university values. A 2014 Institute for Policy Studies piece reports that universities with the highest administrative and executive salaries are also the most unequal schools. This is in terms of the great divide between wealthy administrators with lucrative salaries and indebted (or otherwise disadvantaged) students. Our school fits the bill; in 2014, OSU was the most unequal public university in the country. And the fact that the number of administrative positions has increased by 26.3 percent since 2006 is an undoubtedly bad sign.

These trends make some serious threats to some of our supposed values involving research, sustainable-energy efforts, transparency and democratic decision-making. The ways in which privatization specifically is an assault on our values is, I think, well documented in earlier Lantern contributions from fellow USAS activists Lainie Rini, Jed DeBruin and Reed Kurtz. Now, our detractors in the administration would have you think that we offer no viable alternatives to their oh-so-auspicious proposal. But we do, and our alternative has the added benefit of requiring that we confront our naughty relationship with hedge funds.

Every year, OSU pays $21 million in hedge fund fees; these are basically pay-to-play fees that we fork over just for the pleasure of doing business, so we don’t get this money back. How about that for a wise investment strategy? It isn’t clear why we do this, rather than, say, prioritizing our other investments that don’t require that we throw out over $20 million a year! Eight-hundred and three million dollars of our $3.63 billion endowment (that’s 22 percent) is invested in hedge funds, according to the investment site Preqin. And let’s not be fooled into thinking that hedge fund investments are always the most profitable. In 2014 (the same year for which OSU earned its title as The Most Unequal Public University in America), hedge funds experienced their worst year on record. I hardly think I need to draw readers’ attention to the number of high-profile cases in which these unregulated, high-risk investments failed colossally.

Now, loyal Lantern readers will know where I’m going with this — recall that it’s estimated to cost $250 million to bring our campus buildings up to proposed energy-efficiency standards. A decade’s worth of savings that accompanies hedge fund divestment could go toward temporary contracts slated to make these improvements as part of an in-house solution.

Furthermore, if we refuse the CEMP, we could maintain complete, unobstructed control over energy sourcing; this, along with the freedom to continue to explore sustainable-energy options without the kind of unethical pressures that accompany proceedings with fossil fuel corporations. Now I’ll grant that this is just an idea, but it is one of many alternatives USAS activists and others are continuously exploring. To be certain, this kind of arrangement, or one like it, that prioritizes our values — commitments to sustainability, transparency and democratic decision-making — all of this will be reduced to mere pipe dream if we choose corporate tyranny by signing a 50-year lease in the fall.

 

Chris Johnson

First-year in philosophy

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