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Board of Managers

Who Has the Power? My Journey into Swat Bureaucracy

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Ever since the Board of Managers chose not to divest from fossil fuels, I’ve started envisioning the people “at the top” of the Swarthmore administration, who chose to ignore the strong student support of divestment. In my more dramatic moments, I imagined rows of white men in suits, all puppets of the fossil fuel industry, deliberately frustrating wide-eyed idealist students at every turn through heinous bureaucratic tricks. Basically, a combination of the Koch brothers and very unhelpful DMV employees.

That vision was very unfair of me; only half of the Board of Managers is composed of white men (take into account white women, though, and the Board is looking less diverse). Many are involved in philanthropy and nonprofit work.

But if the board isn’t all that bad, why did they avoid directly engaging with students? When student protesters moved to Kohlberg, where the Board of Managers planned to meet in the Scheueur Room, Dean Liz Braun heroically escorted the Board members into the room through the kitchen door, supposedly to avoid disturbing the protest. Call me a cynic, but I doubt they cared about disrupting the protest that much. Rather, I have a feeling they wanted to avoid the protesters (who were not, by any definition, a bloodthirsty bunch).

Searching through the managers’ biographies did not suggest any scandalous conflicts of interest that would explain the Board’s unwillingness to converse. A number of managers have worked for firms that the average noble, socially conscious Swattie would probably condemn — such as Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan —- and the members of the Investment Committee all work in finance, a number of them in private equity firms, but that is to be expected. I did find a potentially troubling connection through a non-Swarthmore publication; Chris Niemczewski ‘74, the Investment Committee’s chair, “is responsible for investing the endowment and finding external consultants and managers to invest and manage it;” he is also the president of the investment advisory firm Marshfield Associates, which Swarthmore paid almost $200,000 in investment management fees. One of Marshfield Associates’ major investments is in Deere and Devon Energy, a gas and petroleum producer. The Phoenix has previously noticed and discussed this possible conflict of interest. (http://swarthmorephoenix.com/2014/10/23/investment-committee-conflict-of-interest/).

It is worth noting that, before I started this research, I had no idea how powerful the Board of Managers truly is. I naively assumed that, since President Smith and the various deans were the ones from whom we got emails from and with whom we communicated, they were the people in charge. But it’s the Board that hires — and fires — the college’s presidents, that approves the Swarthmore budget, and that approves changes in salaries (http://swarthmorephoenix.com/2015/09/03/top-salaries-at-college-similar-to-those-at-peer-institutions/). Even in the Swat Bubble, money has power. President Smith inspires respect, even affection, in students. I was at the Mountain Justice sit-in, and appreciated that she took the effort to come and check on the students. I was less appreciative of the fact that she somewhat woodenly repeated the same line about the Board having made its decision. We’d like to think that Val calls the shots; but, ultimately, she seems to have little formal power with the managers.

Again, it’s unfair to generalize. The Board does have some diverse backgrounds, and I imagine there was some debate about divestment. Board Member David Singleton even came by the sit-in to engage with students, and admitted that divestment had proved effective in other colleges. Yet the managers as a whole proved unwilling to extend that debate to include students.

“We talk a lot about dialogue and critical thinking, and the Board wasn’t willing to engage with questions that are difficult,” points out Stephen O’Hanlon ‘17, a Mountain Justice coordinator. “[It’s] unacceptable that they aren’t engaging with something that was accepted by such a wide margin.”

In all the time I spent looking through the webpages for various Board committees, I did not feel as if the Board or the President’s Office was trying to hide shameful secrets or throw anyone off the track. From what I understand, Swarthmore is managed like an ordinary, not particularly corrupt private company. But maybe that’s the problem. We’re not just any private company, with shareholders and investors. Swarthmore’s very purpose is to “make its students more valuable human beings and more useful members of society…with a deep sense of ethical and social concern.” (Incidentally, I wasn’t aware one could become a more valuable human being).

In the world of private companies, presumably Swat students would be the equivalent of shareholders. But we won’t just be content with getting an end of they year report (or multiple emails from various offices, or a Self-Study Action Report that mentions the need for administrative transparency). We won’t just read the very bland short bios of the managers, and try to navigate the Board’s 11 committees through unhelpful webpages. Some Committees’ roles are not even explained — such as the Compensation Committee. Google has revealed that Compensation Committees decide salaries. Nothing specifies whose salaries, but I assume that this is the Committee of whom staff members would like to stay on the good side.

The Board proudly proclaims its commitment to Quaker values. Chief among these should be a willingness to fully include students in the decision-making process – to act by consensus, rather than avoid us. O’Hanlon worries that “there’s no formal way for students or faculty to influence the Board of Managers.”

The ultimately fruitless referendum seems to support O’Hanlon’s concerns. But Swat students have brains, passion, and a real commitment to changing things. In a few decades, some of us will be the next Board of Managers. Are we willing to speak out now, ask the Board for more transparency, more engagement with students, if not more inclusion in their decisions? Or will we also be sneaking in through the kitchen door 30 years from now?

 

(This article by a non-Swattie discusses the College’s endowment and investments, in addition to the one conflict of interest I may have found. It is definitely worth reading, at least to gain one outside perspective. http://www.philly.com/philly/columnists/20150720_Richly_Endowed.html)

 

Why the Board should listen to the divestment referendum

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In 2013, I was skeptical of divestment. I reasoned through simple, and undoubtedly naïve, cost-benefit analysis that the expected gains in terms of direct reduction of fossil fuel consumption did not outweigh potential losses faced by the college. Nevertheless, I decided to vote in favor of partial divestment.

  In my opinion, the strongest argument against divestment is that it will not directly lead to the reduction of fossil fuel consumption. I still believe this is probably true, but I recognize that this is a severely limited view on the potential benefits of divestment. Is the average American paying attention to Swarthmore’s endowment? No. Are they paying attention to the divestment movement? Probably not. But the average American does know about climate change, and divestment has to be included as part of the larger movement to combat the irreversible human-induced damage to our planet. Although Swarthmore’s commitments to reducing its carbon footprint, including the Sustainability Framework, are admirable, climate change will not be solved by individual self-restraint. It requires a global movement that begins and ends with societal perceptions of fossil fuels. It’s easy to dismiss divestment by claiming that nobody pays attention to the movement. But, when we look back years from now, it’ll be incredibly difficult to justify why we did not divest.

  What I find most frustrating is the assurance that maintaining our investments in fossil fuels is the way to “yield the best long term financial results.” I won’t go so far as to say the divestment will be absolutely profitable, nor will I claim to know more about investment than the Board of Managers. However, they are not the only authorities on the subject. Expert views on the cost of divestment are more mixed than conclusive, and, more importantly, there is real financial risk involved in maintaining our holdings. Even if we take the Board of Managers own $200 million shortfall as divestment’s worst possible outcome, who’s to say that retaining our holdings is safer?

  Solar prices have fallen below wind prices in developing countries. BP’s 2017 Energy Outlook expects the number of electric vehicles to expand from 1.2 million in 2015 to 100 million by 2035. An (albeit optimistic) Grantham Institute at Imperial College study expects demand for coal and oil to peak in 2020. We are biased to expect past trends to continue unchanged, and if they don’t, we should be very concerned about being left holding the empty oil drum. Professionals with billions of dollars at stake failed spectacularly in 2008, and I don’t see any reason to believe massive strides in our ability to avoid herd mentality and predict the future have been made in the last decade.  

  It remains to be seen why we as students should be forced to accept the judgment of professional investors when there is no clear consensus in the expert world. If we believe students deserve any say at all in how the endowment is invested, why can’t partial divestment be an appropriate compromise? An 80 percent vote in favor of divestment from 55 percent of the student body deserves more than an immediate dismissal; there should be real debate.

  Divestment won’t drive fossil fuel companies to financial ruin. Still, whether due to a whirlwind of technological development or an uptick in visible damage from natural disaster, the consumption of fossil fuels is going to have to end sooner or later. If we are truly concerned about long term financial results, the real question shouldn’t be “why divest?” Instead, it should be “why not divest?”

 

We forced divestment from apartheid, we will do it again

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Yesterday, SGO announced the results of the student referendum on fossil fuel divestment. The referendum passed by a landslide: 80.5 percent of voters agreed that Swarthmore College should divest from fossil fuels with 55 percent voter turnout. The results of the referendum demonstrate a clear mandate from the student body for the Board to take action on divestment.

Despite this mandate, President Valerie Smith and Board Chair, Thomas E. Spock ’78, released a statement Wednesday afternoon in which they upheld the Board’s 2015 decision not to divest while ignoring the referendum’s popular support on campus. The Board’s decision to immediately cast aside this referendum and refuse to seriously engage with the issue of divestment in unacceptable, particularly as the fossil fuel industry partners with the Trump administration to push forward climate policies that will threaten millions of lives.

Mountain Justice’s fossil fuel divestment campaign is not the first divestment campaign on Swarthmore’s campus. Swarthmore students began to organize against apartheid in South Africa as early as 1965, and in 1978 they launched a divestment campaign with a petition highlighting the injustices of apartheid, the College’s investments in companies involved in South Africa, and the College’s Quaker values.

The anti-apartheid divestment campaign spanned eleven long years: eleven years of being ignored, sidestepped, and rejected by the Board. Students circulated petitions, staged sit-ins, invited speakers, formed human chains, and slept on Parrish porch. Despite the Board rejecting divestment four times, students and faculty persisted, taking increasingly escalated action, and in 1989 the Board committed to a plan to divest from apartheid by 1990. Due to student efforts, the College finally decided that it was morally and politically unthinkable to continue to support apartheid.

As President Smith and Board Chair Spock cited in their email, following the decision to divest from apartheid, the Board adopted new investment guidelines stating that the “Investment Committee manages the endowment to yield the best long term financial results, rather than to pursue other social objectives.” While we understand that some restraint around using the endowment for social purposes is important, the Board’s blanket rejection of any social concerns with our investments is morally unconscionable. Our investments do not exist in a vacuum. Investing in these companies directly undermines the social and political work the college advocates and pursues both on campus and beyond. Unless the Board thinks that divestment from apartheid was a mistake, their current objection to any divestment proposals is morally and politically inconsistent.

As our “Fossil Fuel Divestment Finances Fact Sheet” points out, our current proposal not only sidesteps the past financial concerns of the Board but could also ultimately serve as a financial boon to the College. Additionally, we find it deeply disturbing that the reasons President Smith and Board Chair Spock cited for ignoring the student referendum — these guidelines as well as previous rejection of fossil fuel divestment — would have prevented the College’s divestment from apartheid had students not persisted. Of course, the system of apartheid in South Africa and the fossil fuel industry are by no means the same. However, both the apartheid regime and the fossil fuel industry are rogue social actors that pose mortal threats to millions of people.

Today, we stand at a turning point in history on the brink of climate disaster. The devastating effects of climate change cannot be understated: sea levels and temperatures are rising; droughts, floods, and extreme weather patterns are increasing in intensity and frequency; and those most impacted by the crisis — indigenous communities, communities of color, and low-income communities —are met with brutal force and militarized police when they peacefully resist the pipelines, incinerators, and refineries routed through their land and lives.

Despite this increasingly urgent reality, we are rapidly going in the wrong direction. From appointing as Secretary of State the former CEO of Exxon, a company that funded climate denialism and hid the truth from the public for decades, to appointing Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt, a man who sued the agency he is now supposed to run over a dozen times during the Obama administration, the Trump administration has made it clear that it cares more about profits than people’s lives and the environment.

Now more than ever, we need institutions like Swarthmore College to be a leader and take action on this urgent issue. Neutrality is no longer an option; continuing to invest in companies that place profit over people, trample indigenous sovereignty, fund climate denialism, and poison our air, water, and land is not a neutral stance.

Nor can action be limited to efforts on our campus. We must stigmatize the fossil fuel industry and revoke their social license to operate. Teaching students about sustainability and adding a carbon charge are important examples of climate action. However, continuing to invest in the very companies that fund climate denialism and lobby Congress to block meaningful climate action ultimately undermines these efforts. By stigmatizing the fossil fuel industry, divestment will help create the political will for these other important initiatives.

Believing that it is urgent for Swarthmore to send a powerful moral message in this political moment, we have offered a compromise: our proposal for partial divestment avoids the main concerns, such as a potential loss in financial gains, that the Board has cited in the past. And yet, the Board refuses to listen to the student body, telling us that the situation has not changed in the past two years.

But the situation has changed. Not only does the proposal in the referendum avoid the Board’s previous financial concerns, but a mandate from students and a political situation that demands institutional leadership creates a new imperative for divestment.

The Board has refused to listen to the student body before on matters of divestment. Had students not persisted, the College may never have divested from apartheid in South Africa. Now, like then, we must demand leadership from our institution, or we risk looking back, years down the line, and realizing that we stood on the wrong side of history. We cannot stand idly by and let that happen.

Divestment and the need for moral leadership on climate

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On Monday, thousands of students and faculty at colleges, high schools, and even two middle schools across the nation walked out of class to reject the deadly climate denialism of the Trump administration and demand moral leadership from our institutions.

Tuesday, the need for that leadership became even more clear. Donald Trump signed executive actions that attempt to restart the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. He took this action despite clear opposition from people whose land, livelihoods, and communities will be devastated, climate scientists warning of disastrous climate impacts, and hundreds of thousands across the country who organized and protested to stop them.

This should not come as a surprise. Trump has invested heavily in both these pipelines (a spokesman says he has resolved these conflicts of interest, but refused to provide evidence). He’s also appointed Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, along with a slew of climate deniers, billionaires, and white supremacists to his cabinet. At noon on Inauguration Day, all mentions of climate change (along with pages on civil rights and LGBTQ rights) disappeared from the White House website. And these actions are likely just the beginning. Trump’s poised to eliminate all federal climate regulations and throw out our commitments in the Paris Climate Accord.

Over the coming months, Trump and the GOP will continue to promote policies to bail out the fossil fuel industry. They are authorizing unnecessary dirty pipelines in order to enrich Big Oil executives who were, until this election, facing the slow decline of their industry. They want more money and more power to take people’s land. This will contaminate more water and sacrifice more lives.

In turbulent times here and around the world, institutions of higher education have played critical roles in standing up for rights and justice against authoritarian and repressive governments. Throughout our own history, Swarthmore has been a leader in social justice and stood up for what was right, even if it wasn’t popular. At this moment, colleges like Swarthmore must be the moral leaders our president is not, on climate justice, and on a range of social justice issues. We must be a moral anchor and a beacon of hope in these trying times.

Our $1.9 billion endowment is one of our most powerful tools for showing this moral leadership. By taking our investments out of the industry, we are saying it is wholly incompatible with our values as an institution. It isn’t about hurting share prices, but rather about stripping the fossil fuel industry of its social license to operate. We’ve already seen evidence that this is tremendously effective. five years ago, fossil fuel divestment was started right here on this campus. Today, the movement has divested $5 trillion.

The fossil fuel industry’s response shows the movement’s success. In 2014, the Australian Coal Council tried to make divestment illegal because it was threatening their profits. The Alberta Oil Magazine warned executives “to ignore divestment at their own peril.” Last year, the Independent Petroleum Association of America began an extensive PR campaign called “Divestment Facts” to discourage administrations and students from supporting our movement. The morning of the national day of action, they urged students to #StayInClass. When the Board of Managers said “no” to divestment, the Independent Petroleum Association of America applauded the decision in the press. As this industry continues to partner with and profit from the Trump administration, it is past time that Swarthmore makes sure we are no longer applauded by the fossil fuel industry.

As Trump’s administration and the fossil fuel industry continue to push through policies that will put millions of lives on the line and threaten our future, it will be hard for us to show credible leadership when we are investing in the fossil fuel industry, in companies like Dakota Access that are trampling indigenous rights and in companies like Exxon that have been popularizing for decades the climate denialism that Trump espouses. We need to use every tool at our disposal to stand against this industry and this president. By divesting, we can make a powerful statement: this industry’s business model that profits off economic and racial injustice and that is wrecking the climate is incompatible with our values as an institution.

We know divestment cannot happen overnight, but there are steps we can take right now. Some of our endowment is held in separately-managed accounts. As Board Investments Committee Chair Chris Niemczewski said in the Spring 2015 Swarthmore Alumni Bulletin, with these funds, “it is easy for a client to come to the investment manager with specific needs or requests, such as for a fossil-free portfolio.” We also know that many of our other managers of more traditional commingled accounts have fossil-free options, meaning that to divest those accounts we just need to call the managers and ask them to transfer our money to one of their fossil free funds. This would avoid the major challenge to divest raised by the Board, which is that Swarthmore would need to switch our investment managers.

When the President of the United States is actively threatening communities and the very future of this planet, there is no room for neutrality. We must take prompt action and we must show leadership. The clearest, most powerful way to do that is by ending our investments in the fossil fuel industry. Next Wednesday, Mountain Justice are meeting with President Smith and we look forward to working with her and the Board to take some of these common sense steps to stop our support of this industry.

As seniors graduate, how will the spring of 2013 be remembered?

in Around Campus/Campus Journal by

Many seniors are soon approaching the scariest part of college: the end. Each class leaves, a new one replaces it, and the campus seems to change a bit. Leaving with this senior class is a very important piece of institutional memory from only three years ago: the Spring of our Discontent. Although many current seniors were not involved in the actions, their hazy memory of the anger, the actions and the coalition of students coming together is really all we have left. Students coming onto campus have no idea what the Spring of Discontent even means, let alone its lasting impact on the school as a whole. It seems almost purposeful to let it remain that way. Because once these seniors graduate, who will tell the story? With no students who experienced the emotion and turmoil of the spring, how will the narratives change?

The Spring of our Discontent, which refers to the spring of 2013, was defined by actions regarding a number of different subjects. Mountain Justice was advocating for divestment, the IC and BCC were responding to underfunding and consistent incidents of urination on the door to the IC, and frustration toward the frats and the administration due to sexual assault misconduct. All the issues represented interests of oppressed students on campus and frustration at the lack of institutional support they received. The first action students pushed as part of this movement was a petition to have a referendum about Greek life on campus, which received 172 signatures, and was presented to the Student Council (now SGO). The referendum proposed six modifications to Greek life, on which students could vote yes or no: separating DU and Kappa Alpha Theta from the national chapters, making all genders eligible for both fraternities and sororities, making frat houses substance free, pushing both frats into one house, having no designated houses for either frat, or the abolition of Greek life all together.

The referendum was released on Moodle. 53% of students voted ‘Yes’ on making Greek life gender-inclusive, but all other amendments to Greek life failed to pass. Substance free frat houses received 65% ‘No’, 19% ‘Yes’ and 12% no preference and 3% with no answer. Pushing both frats into one house received 54% ‘No’ and 30% ‘Yes’, while having no designated houses for either frat received ‘No’ 52% and ‘Yes’ 36%. Abolition of Greek life altogether received 61% ‘No’,  and 29% ‘Yes’. With the frats still intact, the focus shifted from Greek like to problems within the administration

Students filed complaints with twelve testimonies through Title IX and the Clery Act, charging that the administration had mishandled their cases and had not adequately addressed their reports of sexual assault. Reported failures included discouraging victims from coming forward, underreporting incidents of sexual assault, intimidating victims of sexual assault, and other failures to publicly report to the government or local community. This resulted in a dramatic change within the administration. Several members of the administration left the school or changed positions. Margolis Healy and Associates, a firm aimed to create safe campuses for colleges and universities, did an assessment on the sexual assault policy which resulted in a new policy that included the creation of a Title IX coordinator position that reports directly to the president. This also resulted in the creation of positions in departments such as the dean’s office, the athletic office, and the office of human resources to specifically support the Title IX office, among many other revisions to consent education and alcohol and other drugs policies. The final revision, and probably the most talked about change on campus, was the new alcohol policy and the death of the DJ fund.

In response to the actions and emotions on campus, the school offered several sessions for students to process the campus climate fully. “The activists concluded, ‘we’re not here to process feelings, we’re here to make change’” said Nathan Graf ’16, a member of Mountain Justice and an active participant in many of the actions during the spring of 2013. The focus of the actions turned a bright light on the administration and the many incidents they had mishandled, which allowed students to see the connections between the issues and demand a greater level of accountability from the administration in the areas they had neglected.

Mountain Justice voiced frustration at how the board of managers rejected movements to divest from fossil fuels, and the IC groups shared in frustration of feeling isolated and neglected on campus overall. The collective frustration led MJ activists to plan the board of managers takeover. The plan was for students who were negatively affected by the school to voice their concerns to the board of managers directly. The meeting was in Sci 101, and students came into the room from both sides and sat along the sides and in the middle, some holding signs expressing the issues they were representing. One by one, students stood at the podium and told of their experiences and expressed the need for change to the board of managers. Survivors of sexual assault, MJ members, and members of IC groups like SQU spoke honestly about their concerns and changes they wanted for the institution. This action had the most lasting impact on campus and is often thought of when addressing the spring of 2013.

Obviously, the activists who were at the forefront of these actions still had academics to worry about, and the looming finals season slowed the momentum of action for the spring. Then the senior class that had spearheaded the movements all graduated, and by the time the fall of 2013 came about, the movement had lost steam. The same emotions and frustrations with the school were still present, but the collective movement for action had faded. MJ has continued to fight the board of managers for divestment from fossil fuels, as over hundreds of other colleges and universities have divested as Swarthmore still lags behind.

Former College President Rebecca Chopp described the spring of 2013 as the community ‘frayed at its edges’. But what was so “frayed” about students coming together to make their institution better? Was their anger not handled peacefully through protest?

The general message sent from the administration through their actions of the spring of 2013 is that students need to settle for ‘good enough’. But I don’t think any Swarthmore student has ever really settled for good enough. Swarthmore students exceed expectations. It’s why we’re here, it’s what we do. They ask us to exceed; why can we not ask them the same?

The students involved in the spring of 2013 loved this institution. They loved it so much, they did everything in their power to fix its gaping faults. There’s so much left that wasn’t accomplished in 2013 that still affects students on campus today. The spring of 2013 has ended, but The Spring of Our Discontent is not over. The issues of the discontented have not been rectified. Students at Swarthmore today, tomorrow, and for as long as this college exists, need to continue to push and fight and love this institution until it’s the amazing place we know it can be.

 

Mountain justice stage protest on steps of Parrish

in Around Campus/News by

Last Friday, Swarthmore Mountain Justice held a protest reiterating their demands that board members Samuel Hayes III ’57, Rhonda Cohen ’76, and Harold Kalkstein ’78 recuse themselves from future board discussions regarding divestment due to their fiscal ties to the fossil fuel industry. M.J. members washed the windows of Kohlberg where the board was meeting last weekend in a symbolic act of protest before moving to Parrish. John Braxton ’70, assistant professor of ecology at the Community College of Philadelphia and a longtime social justice activist who received an honorary degree from the college in 2010, attended the event. Though they resisted engaging in any directly confrontational actions with the Board, Mountain Justice members repeatedly said that if their demands were not met they would engage in escalating action.

Mountain Justice members had high expectations for the protest. M.J. member Ethan Chapman ’19 said he hoped the protest would send a message that the student body demanded accountability from the board.

“I hope we get a good turnout and show how serious we are about transparency and having a transparent dialogue with the board about divestment,” he said.

Students Annie Zhao ’18 and Killian McGinnis ’19 spoke at the event. Lee Smithy, assistant professor of sociology, introduced Braxton, the event’s main speaker. Their speeches advocated for divestment, demanding board members with ties to the fossil fuel industry recuse themselves from board discussions about divestment.

 “Just as the power of the fossil fuel industry has stifled meaningful action on climate change nationally, ties to the fossil fuel industry from members of our own board hold back meaningful climate change discussion here at Swarthmore.” Annie Zhao ’18, the first speaker, said.

Braxton, a biologist and ecologist, served 17 months in prison in the early 1970s for refusing to fight in the Vietnam War, has been involved in labor and social justice activism for most of his adult life. He recently collaborated between Noam Chomsky, Arlie Hochschild, Lotte Bailyn, Lorene Cary, and Barbara Hall Partee in a letter to the Board of Managers calling on them to enact divestment. In his speech, Braxton connected the activism of Mountain Justice with activism at the college in the past, including the 1969 sit-in held by black students in the admissions office to increase diversity on campus.

The protest started with about 15 people, all members of Mountain Justice, but as time went on the crowd grew to about 40. In addition to students, several faculty and staff came, including college gardner Sheila Magee ’81, who has been involved with the movement since the beginning.

After the speeches, the crowd walked up to the second floor of Parrish and delivered a letter addressed to Valerie Smith stating their demands for Hayes, Cohen, and Kalkstein to recuse themselves. Assistant to the President Brexton Eason accepted the letter with no comment.

“I think this rally was very successful. I looked around and saw a lot of really excited participants,” said Mountain Justice member Christopher Malafronti ’18.

The board did not address Mountain Justice’s demand but did announce a new $300,000 carbon charge. According to a Daily Gazette article, the charge will be assessed at a rate of $40 per metric ton of carbon emitted from new construction and a .5% charge on all department’s budgets. The charge will “increase the visibility of the campus’ sustainability programs and aid in the college’s efforts to include the entire campus community in the effort to address climate change,” according to a press release on the college website.

Malafronti stated that board’s inaction would mean escalated protests from Mountain Justice, but said that what those protests will look like has not yet been determined by the group.

 

Board members obligated to recuse themselves

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

Today, Swarthmore Mountain Justice called on Board members Rhonda Cohen ’76, Samuel Hayes III ’57, and Harold Kalkstein ’78, to recuse themselves from future conversations on fossil fuel divestment. The Board’s decision not to divest last May was compromised by conflicts of interest among these three Board members who have considerable personal and financial ties to the fossil fuel industry.

Five years after students at Swarthmore College launched the first fossil fuel divestment campaign in the country, the debate on divestment is over. The overwhelming support on campus for fossil fuel divestment from students, faculty, and alumni, as well as the rousing call for divestment from the international community, has proven that the only barrier to divestment is the Board’s own refusal to act in line with climate science. While Swarthmore claims to invest in our futures, their decision not to divest is a direct threat to our continued survival on this planet. Rising seas threaten the lives of entire nations every day, yet the Board has refused to act.

Over 1,100 faculty and alumni voiced their support for divestment last year, along with 970 students (61% of the student body). The faculty passed a resolution and wrote a 30-page white paper asking the board to divest. It is clear that the campus mandate is in favor of divestment, and equally clear that the board chose to ignore the voices of students, faculty, and alumni as well as the role that Swarthmore College plays in the global discourse on fossil fuels. Just as the power of fossil fuel interests have stifled meaningful action on climate change nationally, ties to the fossil fuel industry from members of our own Board are holding back meaningful climate action here at Swarthmore.

The financial ties the following Board members have to the fossil fuel industry compromise the discussion of divestment at Swarthmore, and Mountain Justice asks that they recuse themselves from future discussions on divestment. The Board’s conflict of interest policy is published online, and states that any “Manager having a duality or possible financial conflict of interest on any matter should not use his or her personal influence in the matter and, if a vote were to be taken, should not vote thereon nor be counted even in determining the quorum for the meeting.”

Vice Chair of the Board of Managers Rhonda Cohen also serves on the board of directors at the Glenmede Trust. The Glenmede Trust’s third-largest holding is its $219 million invested in ExxonMobil; in addition, it has $961.6 million (7% of its $13.9 billion in assets) invested in energy. These economic ties clearly comprise Ms. Cohen’s ability to make objective decisions regarding Swarthmore’s divestment from fossil fuel companies.

Board Member Emeritus Samuel Hayes II has a long-standing relationship with the fossil fuel industry, having served 20 years on the boards of the Eaton Vance family of mutual funds. Eaton Vance’s second-largest holding is its $845 million dollar stake in ExxonMobil. Eaton Vance has $2.6 billion invested in dirty energy, or eight percent of its $32.7 billion total holdings. The amount Eaton Vance has invested in energy is almost equal to the entirety of Swarthmore’s endowment; it is unthinkable that this sum would bear no influence on Mr. Hayes’ decisions regarding divestment at Swarthmore. As a Board Member Emeritus and former chair of Swarthmore’s investments committee, Mr. Hayes has considerable influence on the Board’s investment decisions, yet his views on divestment are conflicted by connections to the fossil fuel industry.

Investment Committee Member Harold Kalkstein was formerly a manager of the Boston Consulting Group and founded its global energy practice. The BCG recently published a report advising the legalization of Arctic oil drilling and a repeal of the ban on crude oil exports. The BCG is also a paid advocate for oil companies. In 2012, the BCG was one of the highest-paid advocates for the Western States Petroleum Association, earning $648,875 that year for their advocacy. It is unfathomable that a person with such direct and considerate ties to the fossil fuel industry could make objective decisions regarding fossil fuel divestment at Swarthmore College.

With these clear conflicts of interest in mind, we demand that Harold Kalkstein, Rhonda Cohen and Samuel Hayes III recuse themselves from future discussions of fossil fuel divestment. The gravity and urgency of combating climate change only accelerates with time. Five million people die every year because of the fossil fuel economy and climate change. From refineries in communities of color to rising sea levels impacting small island nations, those least responsible for the climate crisis—­­the poor, people of color, and communities throughout the global south—­­are facing the worst impacts as a result of our fossil fuel dependency.

We cannot sit by silently and allow conflicts of interest held on the part of specific Board members to cloud Swarthmore’s decision on an issue as imperative as fossil fuel divestment. We cannot allow Swarthmore to continue to support the companies that are destroying entire communities while championing struggles for social justice in its classrooms.

This information was compiled by Little Sis, a research tool run by the Public Accountability Initiative, a “non-profit, public interest research organization investigating power.”

Giving a gold star for all the wrong reasons

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

Last May, the Board of Managers put Swarthmore on the wrong side of history. They continued to invest in and legitimize the fossil fuel industry — an industry that actively profits from racial and economic injustice and whose fundamental business plan involves burning over five times more carbon than UN scientists say is “reasonably safe”.  It is incompatible with a livable future. By continuing to invest in fossil fuels, the Board is saying that this industry is consistent with our community’s values of social responsibility and leadership for the common good. They are sending the worst possible message at the worst possible moment, as the world prepares for landmark climate negotiations this fall.

This decision went against a campus mandate for action and drew criticism from groups across the globe. Last year, the divestment campaign gathered 950 student and 1200 alumni petition signatures, received an endorsement from UN Climate Chief Christiana Figueres ’79, and helped pass a faculty resolution recommending divestment (passed by a 10-1 margin). Criticism flooded in from groups across the globe, ranging from 350.org, an international climate group, to the Delco Times, the moderate county newspaper. Even prospective students took note of the decision, with one, the daughter of a prominent environmental blogger, questioning whether she will apply to Swarthmore this year.

But, one group praised the decision — the fossil fuel industry, congratulating the Board for undermining the divestment movement. Within a day of the Board’s decision, a spokesman for the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), the largest oil and gas lobby, appeared in the press, “applaud[ing] Swarthmore for keeping its holdings in fossil fuels” and criticizing our movement. The IPAA represents companies like Exxon, Shell, and BP that spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year funding climate denial and lobbying against climate action.

Understanding why Exxon did this isn’t complicated. According to an analysis by the investment bank HSBC, if we are to prevent a two degree Celsius rise in global temperatures (beyond which we may face runaway climate change) governments must force fossil fuel companies to leave $20 trillion in carbon reserves unburned and ‘stranded,’ leading to a devaluation in their share prices by 40-60%. This means that our ability to avoid runaway climate change is directly at odds with the fossil fuel industry’s business model. As a result, they will do anything and everything in their power to minimize the significance of any climate regulations. For decades, they have polluted our democracy with massive donations to and lobbying of elected officials and have actively funded and spread false science. Just this week, a report revealed that Exxon has known about climate change since 1981, but continues to fund climate deniers even 30 years later in an effort to extract as many carbon reserves as possible.

This isn’t what Swarthmore stands for. Though we may not want to lend our support to fossil fuels, this endorsement from the IPAA makes it clear that the Board’s actions speak for us as an institution. No matter what other climate initiatives Swarthmore undertakes, by continuing to invest in fossil fuels, we are continuing to lend our support to a rogue industry at war with everything that Swarthmore stands for — truth, science, dialogue, and justice.

On Saturday, we delivered the Board an ‘award’ from the fossil fuel industry to highlight how the Board’s decision directly lent Swarthmore’s prestige and social capital to a rogue industry that is responsible for millions of deaths every year. Just as it is unconscionable for the Board to continue to lend our college’s support to this industry, we, as members of the college community, believe it is similarly unconscionable for us to remain silent and allow the Board to undermine our core community values as the sole voice speaking for Swarthmore, despite the powerful mandate from the Swarthmore community for divestment.

We will continue campaigning because we know the Board’s decision in May is not final. Whether it is by economic necessity or by a political and moral choice, we know that divestment is inevitable — all that remains to be seen is how long the Board will allow the fossil fuel industry to use our social capital to promote their public relations.

The campaign to divest from Apartheid South Africa was rebuffed by the Board multiple times before they acceded to student, faculty, and alumni demands, and we are confident that the Board will join the Swarthmore community on the right side of history once again. But in the meantime, lives are at stake. Since this campaign began four years ago, the fossil fuel industry has been responsible for millions of deaths. Communities around the world, predominantly communities of color, impacted by the climate crisis and the fossil fuel industry do not have another five years. As young people facing an increasingly unstable future climate, we do not have another five years for our college, the very institution preparing us for our future, to continue to support an industry that poses an existential threat to that future.

 

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