Board of Managers says no to divestment

Over five months since the disastrous May 4 board meeting and two years since Mountain Justice began its campaign to divest the College’s endowment from fossil fuels, the Swarthmore Board has finally stated its position: There will be no divestment. Striking a remarkably magnanimous tone, chairman of the board, Gil Kemp ’72, writes in an open letter:

The Managers’ decision not to divest is broad and deep, and while we’ve arrived at this position from several different paths, it is our collective judgment that the cost of divestment would far outweigh any potential benefit. If we thought divestment would change the behavior of fossil fuel companies, or galvanize public officials to do something about climate change, or reduce America’s reliance on fossil fuels, this would be a much tougher decision. We believe we have other, more effective means to achieve this objective.

As we have disclosed earlier (Cost of Divestment Q&A), we believe that such a modification of investment policy is likely to have a negative effect on our investment returns, thus impacting our ability to support financial aid, faculty, curriculum, and student programs. By our calculation, divestment could risk a loss of approximately $10-15 million a year in endowment income. The Board is not prepared to accept the significant cuts in scholarships, faculty, and curriculum offerings that a significantly lower endowment return would necessitate.

The Board is prudent to shield our endowment from students’ political whims. Financial aid is the fastest growing line item in Swarthmore’s annual budget, with 57 percent of students now receiving some sort of tuition assistance. Divestment would most certainly have threatened socioeconomic diversity on campus.

Mr. Kemp also points out the activists’ hypocrisy, noting:

Divestment’s potential success as a moral response is limited-if not completely negated-so long as its advocates continue to turn on the lights, drive cars, and purchase manufactured goods, for it is these activities that constitute the true drivers of fossil fuel companies’ economic viability-their profits. It is important that we ourselves acknowledge that our consumption of energy makes us complicit in the threat to the planet and that it is in our hands to reduce our demand for it.

Certainly the activists’ various “convergence” conferences, in which they travel great distances to network with other environmentalists, have left a carbon footprint of their own. Not to mention the fact that the buses President Chopp send to Washington, DC to protest the Keystone XL pipeline last spring were fueled by diesel.

But for those who had hoped Mountain Justice’s crusade against our endowment was over, think again.

An MJ banner advertising the May 4 board meeting.
An MJ banner advertising the May 4 board meeting.

According to Twitter, the group is reconvening this week. “Board of Managers says they won’t divest, so we won’t stop organizing. Meeting tonight, 7pm, Kohlberg 115. Let’s do this,” reads a tweet from earlier today.

If they insist on prolonging the debate, it is my hope that the conversation remains civil and the administration stays firm.

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