On Friday, Swarthmore’s Student Government Organization hosted a forum on divestment in the Friends Meeting House that included President Valerie Smith, Mountain Justice Coordinator, Aru Shiney-Ajay ’20, Professor and Chair of the History Department Timothy Burke, Associate Professor and Acting Chair of the Sociology/Anthropology Department Lee Smithey, Vice President of Finance and Administration Greg Brown, Director of Sustainability Aurora Winslade, Chair of the Environmental Impact Committee Tiffany Yu, ’18, and President of the Swarthmore Conservative Society Gilbert Guerra ’19. The panelists sat in a semi-circle and the discussion was moderated by Duke Fisher, a professional mediator, who asked questions that were emailed by students to SGO.
Mountain Justice expressed frustration after the event, releasing a video and an official statement on their Facebook page in the days following the event. The group felt that their questions were not properly answered, and have since responded with a sit-in that is taking place in President Smith’s office and the surrounding hallway. Aru Shiney-Ajay expressed that she feels she did not hear an adequate answer about the 1991 ban, whether or not divesment and on-campus sustainability are an either- choice, and a response about financial concerns of partial divestment versus full divestment.
“I hope to hear the questions that we’re asking answered. We outlined three questions that we posed at the forum that the administration sidestepped, I would hope to hear some type of response, I don’t know if that’s going to happen. ” she said.
President Smith had a different opinion about the event, and felt that it facilitated dialogue about the issue of divestment. She also noted that there is a lot more work to be done outside of divestment in order to protect the climate.
“I don’t believe that any of the speakers dodged questions or refused dialogue. If we don’t agree with one another, it doesn’t mean there’s been no dialogue. Dialogue in my definition means listening to another point of view, sticking scrupulously to the facts, and being open to discussing them… We have so much work to do to combat climate change, especially in the current political environment. For example, we can work to retain the effectiveness of the EPA, to uphold environmental regulations, and to keep true sustainability advocates in advocacy roles. There is a march in Washington this coming weekend for the People’s Climate Movement, and MJ, other student groups, and the Office of Sustainability are sponsoring buses from campus. There are any number of ways for us to come together in common purpose,” said Smith.
During the forum, President Smith expressed that the college’s central mission was to educate students and that the college may not be as able to fund as fully if MJ’s potential changes to the endowment were made.
“The decision not to divest emerged from about four years from about four years of extensive conversation, debate, reading, discussion, on the part of the managers with both members of the campus community as well as external advocates and activists […] at the end of that four year period of consultation the board decided that they would not divest, and I think they made this decision for a variety of reasons that are consistent with our core mission, one of which is that to do so would jeopardize our endowment returns that would then have the potential to negatively impact our ability to support students and to support the core educational mission. They were unwilling to do that, to threaten the endowment returns and to threaten the core mission to support a mission that at the end of the day would not have a demonstrable effect on corporations or on our energy consumption,” she said that the forum
Vice President of Finance and Administration Greg Brown was skeptical of the effectiveness of divestment and focused on the consumption side of the issue. He also said that the Board of Managers considers climate change in its decision making.
“Just looking at the producers doesn’t deal with the problem […] We survey [managers] asking them a very simple question for which we want to see a real answer: how does climate […] affect your decision making in how you make investments. .. if you’re not thinking about climate change it’s probable that we may not think about keeping you as a manager,” he said during the forum.
A divide exists between Mountain Justice and the administration, highlighted by their sit-in in the President’s office, on the topic of divestment. Whether or not the Board of Managers will divest is yet to be seen, but Mountain Justice has put an increasing amount of pressure on the administration in the last week. The sit-in began on Monday and is still ongoing.