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Mountain Justice Joins National Group Sunrise, Broadens Goals

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After a busy past year, Mountain Justice is rebranding. They’ve joined Sunrise, a national “movement to stop climate change and create millions of jobs in the process,” according to their website.

“Last year I remember hearing about Mountain Justice just about every week,” said Matt Palmer ’18, who has not been part of environmental groups at Swarthmore. From a campus-wide panel about divestment to a sit-in in President Smith’s office, the climate justice organization was incredibly visible last year. This year, they’re trying something different, but they hope their impact on campus will be even greater.

Sunrise was launched this past June by a group of 12 people, including four Swarthmore Mountain Justice alumni. The founders come from different sects of the climate justice movement, including the environmental organization 350.org and anti-pipeline groups as well as pro-divestment activists. With these varied backgrounds, Sunrise aims to mobilize Americans concerned about climate change and pressure elected officials into action. Swarthmore’s “hub,” or chapter, will remain focused on Mountain Justice’s original mission of getting organizations to divest from fossil fuels while pursuing these broader goals.

“Divestment has done an incredible job in building people power … It’s mobilized thousands of young people across hundreds of campuses, and that’s so exciting,” said Aru-Shiney Ajay ’20, a coordinator for Swarthmore’s Sunrise hub. “But … it’s not enough to just have people mobilized and ready to protest. We also need to make sure that our elected representatives are going to be standing up for climate action; we need to be able to take power at the highest levels of government … And it’s out of this recognition that Sunrise really arose, that while we’ve been doing good work we need to do so much more in order to win.”

Nationally, Sunrise has already made a splash, particularly at one of their #ShineALight events in August. September Porras ’18 crowdfunded her way into a fundraiser to confront Marco Rubio on his donations from the fossil fuel industry. At the event, Porras couldn’t speak to Rubio directly, so she called out in the room.

“Senator, if you really care about young Americans,” she said, “why did you take three-quarters of a million dollars from fossil fuel executives in your last Senate election?” PolitiFact Florida rated Porras’ claim half-true because the number she cited included funds from Rubio’s 2016 presidential run as well.

According to PolitiFact Florida, Rubio avoided the question. He said he was glad he lived “in America where she can say that,” as opposed to some other countries where she could “go to jail. He then called for the U.S. to achieve energy independence.

“It was our kickoff event for Sunrise across the nation,” Porras said. The event was videotaped and is available online.

Although Sunrise’s other actions probably won’t be as dramatic as Porras’ confrontation of Rubio, Porras said her actions were in keeping with the group’s goal of putting pressure on elected officials.

“The point is less to make our elected officials suddenly change their minds about climate change … [and] more to show people how corrupt they are,” said Porras.

To work toward this goal and mobilize young people, Sunrise has planned a full calendar of events both nationwide and here at Swarthmore. This Tuesday they had a watch party in Roberts with a livestream from national Sunrise leaders. Over the course of the semester, they plan on talking to community members about what they love and have to lose from climate change, gathering objects that represent individuals’ concerns. They aim to put these objects in a time capsule and take them to Harrisburg, Pa., when they march on the state capitol in November. That month, they’ll also be marching in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with other Sunrise hubs, protesting President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s representation of the U.S. at the Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany.

Although they’ll be protesting global events, Swarthmore’s Sunrise hub will still be focused locally.

“Sunrise functions on an intersectionality basis … and they recognize that fighting for climate [justice] in different communities looks different,” Porras said. “I think here, we’re really focusing on fracking in Pennsylvania … and for Swat that would also translate to still working with on divestment, because for us that’s what looks like climate work in our community.”

There are many other environmental groups working on campus, and sustainability and environmental awareness are stated goals of the administration.

Institutionally, Swarthmore College recognizes the importance of addressing climate change,  using natural resources in a sustainable manner, and educating its community to be responsible stewards of the environment,” says Swarthmore’s Sustainability website.

In an email, Sustainability Director Aurora Winslade affirmed the administration’s support of students working to fight climate change, and that the Office of Sustainability has opened a dialogue with Sunrise.

“I am not familiar with the specifics of the Sunrise Movement,” she said, “but I applaud the leadership and engagement of our students and alums in these issues … The Office of Sustainability is happy to work with all students and student groups who are interested in sustainability. For example, sustainability program manager Melissa Tier ’14 recently invited representatives from the Sunrise Movement to present to the College’s Green Advisors.”

Like Winslade, Matthew Palmer ’18 is unfamiliar with Sunrise, but he thinks it shows promise.

“I can’t say I’m familiar with Sunrise,” Palmer said, “but it seems like a really good set of goals and a way to broaden their exposure and provide students with new perspectives. I like that they’re targeting other issues rather than specifically divestment. I think that policy measures and things of that nature might be more effective than trying to lobby the administration for how they invest their endowment.”

Despite their broader focus, Sunrise will continue Mountain Justice’s effort to pressure the administration to divest. They will remain focused on holding the administration accountable along with the rest of the Swarthmore community, arguing for change not only in rhetoric but in action.

“Right now it’s almost seen as enough if someone says, ‘Oh, I support the Paris agreements,’ and they’re hailed as a climate champion,” said Ajay-Shiney. “And we’re saying that’s actually not enough. It’s not enough for the administration to be having a recycling run on campus, it’s not enough for this small carbon tax. We need to address things at an institutional level.”

Divestment dialogue leads to sit-in

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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.

The SGO Forum and the Failure to Listen

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The SGO forum on divestment last Friday appears to have produced more tension than dialogue. This is largely due to Mountain Justice’s curious interpretation of the event after the fact. By their account, expressed in the op-ed “Friday’s Forum: An Exercise in Futility” written by Mountain Justice member Aru Shiney-Ajay ‘20 , the organizers only allowed “one student representative when there were three from the administration… the administration repeatedly danced around questions, refusing to give concrete answers.”

The implication that the organizers of the event were trying to stifle student dissent by only allowing one student representative from Mountain Justice is simply unfounded. The forum was about divestment, not Mountain Justice, and the organizers succeeded in finding a diverse array of backgrounds and positions. There were three students: one for divestment, one against it, and one that was neutral. There were two professors: one for divestment and one who was at least skeptical of it. And there were three administrators: the President of the College, the Vice-President of Finance, and the Sustainability Director. It is hard to see how having another Mountain Justice member would have improved this lineup in any way. Regardless, the pro-divestment contingent of Shiney-Ajay and Professor Lee Smithey had by far the most speaking time, and were in no way impeded by the moderator, who gave them plenty of permission to speak on nearly every question, which they did.

Mountain Justice’s second point of contention, that the administration agreed to the forum as a show and had no intention of listening to students, is frankly hypocritical. It is highly doubtful that any member of Mountain Justice, who showed up prepared with cameras, pages of notes, and trendy finger snaps, came to the forum with the intention of listening to any doubts of divestment at all. This is a shame, because despite the awkward fishbowl format there was still a lot of valuable information that came up in the panelist’s statements and interactions. For example, Shiney-Ajay actually convinced me that the 1991 decision to forbid social causes from influencing the management of the endowment is fundamentally at odds with the decision to divest from South Africa, and by extension implies that only one of those decisions was correct in the eyes of the Board. For their part, if Mountain Justice’s delegation had done less talking and more listening, they might have had enough time to hear the answers they are now indignantly demanding. Or perhaps they would have heard Professor Timothy Burke’s warning that as a young activist he had overrated the importance of his own activism work in the context of a larger movement. It is hard, of course, to hear these criticisms over the sound of your friends snapping their fingers as you deliver a pre-written speech that takes up most of the time allotted for discussion and leaves you with no time to hear actual answers.

The real regret I have from the fallout of this forum is the way Mountain Justice has treated President Valerie Smith. Apart from her initial statement and other direct questions, President Smith sat in silence and spent the most time actually listening than any other participant in the forum. For this effort her office was soon the subject of a sit-in by the people at the forum who had listened the least. This is a serious impediment to further dialogue between the administration and students, and pro-divestment students should recognize that dialogue is as much a chance to listen as it is to speak.

MJ to fully automate divestment protest process

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In response to the recent citations of four Mountain Justice student protesters, MJ has decided to dramatically escalate their divestment campaign. In order to do so, MJ has enlisted the help of a large team of computer science and engineering students to fully automate the divestment campaign. With the help of a web crawler, Facebook chat bot, and neural network, MJ will be emailing a new divestment petition to every current Swarthmore student, every newly admitted member of the class of 2021, every living Swat alumnus, and unfortunately more than a few deceased alumni. This petition will include a new feature for alumni where they can list dollar amounts of donations that they’re not giving to the school because of the college’s refusal to divest. Although the petition is expected to yield signatures far exceeding the size of the present student body, the petition will likely not return a number of signatures rivalling the size of the endowment and will therefore be entirely ignored by the administration.

“Our new divestment campaign is going to be bigger and better than any divestment campaign so far. Obviously, we’re bringing back the petition, that one’s always a fan favorite. We’re also really going to double down on the sit-ins, because that seems really hot at the moment, but to really make a statement, we’ve decided on a quadruple-headed approach this time and are introducing two entirely new campaign,” said Jessica Terra ‘19.  

One new campaign focuses on sending the Board of Managers hourly updates of the number of individuals who’ve signed the petition and the amount of money not donated to the school. To avoid the MJ email address simply being blacklisted, MJ is asking students to install a new app they’ve created on their cell phones which will rotate between users of the app, occasionally utilizing the user’s phone to email, text, call, fax, and LinkedIn DM members of the Board of Managers. The app will be available for iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry, and Nokia flip phone and the the hourly update duties will be distributed among the set of users using a neural network.

The sit-in protest will also be fully automated. Engineering students have constructed a group of humanoid robots which will sit in the offices of Vice President of Finances and Administration Gregory Brown, Chief Investment Officer Mark Amstutz, Associate Dean of Students Nathan Miller, and President Valerie Smith for an indefinite period of time. In order to comply with the Student Code of Conduct, these robots will be fully functional personal assistants, assisting (and not interfering with) the day to day work of the administrators. In order to be effective as a protest, however, the robots will continuously emit subliminal pro-divestment messages, which largely consist of polar bear trivia. The technology, of course, utilizes neural networks to govern the robot’s administrative assistant capabilities.

When it was pointed out to MJ that these robots probably are already against the Student Code of Conduct and, if not, definitely will be by next year when the college updates the Code of Conduct to bar even more forms of student protest, MJ members responded by saying that the robots probably don’t count as students and can’t be cited and weigh approximately 800 pounds each so it’s not like PubSafe could really move them even if they wanted to.

The fourth head of MJ’s new quadruple headed approach is an innovative new protest technique where MJ is combining their Responsible Endowments Fund with a million layer neural network to actively target the college’s fossil fuel investments and decrease their value through a series of minor market exchanges indecipherable to the human mind.

“To be honest, I’m not even sure what this one does. It sort of makes sense, but this isn’t something that should actually work, is it?” said MJ member someone someone.

“This should definitely not work,” said Associate Professor of Computer Science, someone someone.

Not to Humiliate but to Win Over

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Reflections on the Right to Peacefully Assemble to Protest Fossil Fuels Endowment Investment at Swarthmore College”

The 1st amendment of the U.S. Constitution states the right of free people to peacefully assemble, and to petition their governing body for a redress of grievances.  In this spirit, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in 1958 that the aim of the nonviolent resistance movement is not to “seek to humiliate or defeat the opponent but to win his friendship and understanding.”  Beginning five years ago, the on-campus campaign to persuade Swarthmore to divest its fossil fuels holdings has operated in the spirit of King’s constitutionally protected movement for social change.

But this peaceful effort has now provoked a disappointing response on the part of the College.

The core mission of Swarthmore College is to teach students how to pursue learning with a commitment to social change.  Faculty agree with this goal, and on March 24 voted 53-9, with 4 abstentions, to urge the College to divest from Big Oil, Gas, and Coal.  Additionally, on February 24, students sat in the administration’s Investment Office and surrounding public spaces to protest the college’s endowment policy.  This action is the same action that was taken in the Spring of 2015, but the earlier protest lasted almost five weeks instead of one day.  In the recent one-day sit-in, the same spaces were occupied as the one in 2015, including the so-called private work area of the Investment Officer.  As a faculty ally, I was present at the beginning of the 2015 sit-in — along with student protesters who temporarily, and peacefully, occupied the Investment Office at that time.  No action was taken against anyone involved in the 2015 sit-in.

Fast forward to today.  Now, in response to the recent one-day protest, the college is charging student protesters with entering and failing to leave a private work area, and interrupting the work of staff members.  This is a debatable charge for two reasons.  Fundamentally, no college-owned work space is strictly private.  Moreover, why was the current standard not invoked two years ago when faculty and students, in protest, entered the same office and surrounding space and interrupted the work of staff members?

On March 26, President Valerie Smith wrote an open letter charging the sit-in students with violating the student code of conduct.  This letter followed a March 17 confidential letter by Dean Nathan Miller announcing an administrative review of the protesting students.  But the mission of the college says “Swarthmore seeks to help its students realize their full intellectual and personal potential combined with a deep sense of ethical and social concern.”  To me, this is the core issue at stake in this on-going disputation.  I believe the nonviolent protesters were simply living out this mission statement and realizing its full aim by peacefully taking over an administrative office guided by their commitment to social and planetary well-being.

Contrary to President Smith and Dean Miller, the students’ action, fundamentally, was not a conduct code violation, but a courageous act of conscience.

Concerning the specifics of Dean Miller’s private letter and subsequent secret hearings, the college’s review of the students in question violates due process.  The hearings assumed certain facts in question, gave the students only two business days to prepare, made no provision for students to secure outside counsel to assist them in their defense, prohibited the students from asking for a continuance, and announced a set of dire consequences if they failed to accept its terms.  According to Dean Miller’s letter, the students were adjudicated under the Minor Misconduct Process, but the intended punishments were potentially severe, ranging from notations in students’ records to probation, monetary damages, and “additional educational sanctions,” whatever that means.  In the end, it appears the college let the students off with a warning.  But what will be their fate, or that of future protesters, if they attempt a similar act of peaceful dissent in the future?

Guided by conscience and good will, Swarthmore students today, as they did two years ago, are putting their education and their futures on the line by thoughtfully challenging the college administration to do the right thing and stop giving the toxic fossil fuels extraction industry its seal of approval.  Nonviolent direct action is not a new tactic at Swarthmore.  Previous peaceful occupations of administrative offices – for example, African-American students take-over of the Admissions Office in 1969, and Anti-Apartheid students take-over of the Admissions Office in 1985 – portended the fossil fuels sit-ins of 2015 and last month.

As King said, we should never demean or insult one another as we struggle in the communities we serve to realize common ideals.  Fair-minded people of good will, then, can sometimes agree about long-range strategic goals, but disagree about immediate tactics to realize these goals.  The College’s Sustainability Office, Environmental Studies Program, Climate Action Plan, carbon charge, green advisors, and much more, are central to its concerted efforts to facilitate learning and living responsibly in troubled times.  But Swarthmore is also squandering its good name by lending its moral capital to a dying industry hell-bent on destroying the self-regulating climate system that sustains Earth’s biosphere.  Instead of charging students with conduct violations who are living out the College’s mission through peaceful action, Swarthmore should crown each of these students as climate heroes whose fearless actions are an inspiration for all of us.

Candy-coated family-friendly version of activism achieves nothing

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Swarthmore brands itself as an institution where student-staff-administration collaboration is crucial not only to student culture but to college function. Another critical value of the campus community is student activism, which has been present at the college since its radical founding. This spring semester, the college is neither living up to its history as an actor for social justice nor holding true to the values it advertises.

An essential part of the Swarthmore experience is learning to question the world around oneself. Through academics, campus resources and organizations, and simply being with other Swatties, students are taught to question, point out flaws, offer improvements, and assert their voices in an earnest way. Part of what students examine is the very institution from which they learn this critical thinking. This action can be seen presently in Mountain Justice’s divestment campaign and multiple demonstrations and protests on the issue. The college should largely support these initiatives, but has threatened students with citations and probations for interfering with college operations.

To first offset some concern, the Phoenix does not expect the college always to orchestrate actions perfectly in time with current events — the college does not control each aspect of this issue. Questions of the student handbook must be addressed to follow due diligence; however, the college’s handling of these situations must be examined independently, so students can engage earnestly with their institution.

Beyond disagreeing with divestment, the college’s warnings of citation and probation are seemingly meant to deter students from exercising their rights to assembly and peaceful protest. As an institution that encourages political activism from its founding to the sanctuary campus initiative and financing of Women’s March events, it is disappointing and demoralizing that the college only supports activism as long as the demonstrations are not aimed at it.

We acknowledge that it is true that the students sitting in the Chief Investment Officer’s were in violation of item six of the disorderly conduct definition of the Student Code of Conduct. However, we not only protest the enforcement of this item, but it’s very existence. Item six includes within disorderly conduct “other conduct that disrupts the normal operations of the college.” This broadens the definition of disorderly conduct to include anything that inconveniences faculty or staff. It’s also important to note that this item is a new change to the 2016-2017 Student Code of Conduct; any claim that the students opted in to this rule is tenuous as the majority of current students had already established themselves at the college before this rule was added. Although the previous edition of the Student Code of Conduct did state that conduct which impinged on the “orderly and essential operations of the College” was disorderly and that the previous defining list of five items was not limiting, the language has since been clearly intentionally broadening, which is troubling.

Furthermore, if the college intends to stand by this change to the Code of Conduct and its broad enforcement of the new definition it cannot position itself as a supporter of campus activism. The new wording bans any activism inconvenient to the college and, put very simply, supporting only activism which is convenient for you is not supporting activism. The point of demonstrations is to disrupt day to day activities to draw attention to a pressing issue. If there’s no disruption, all that’s left is a candy-coated family-friendly version of activism which achieves nothing and would be shameful to this college’s founders.

Future students will enter the liberal arts tradition. When speaking to prospective Swatties, the college rattles off stories of students using the campus to incubate ideas that they can explore boldly on and off campus. Tour guides mention  sit-ins and trips to Philadelphia and Washington they have attended to illustrate the campus’ activist tendencies. Item six in the Student Code of Conduct hampers inquiry and challenge where students are meant to hone those skills for the future.

The college’s actions this March, in its threats of probation and citation against student protesters, have demonstrated the college does not support the activities it promotes if those actions are directed at it. As it has decided that social justice is part of its history, character, and branding, the administration must find some to respect student activism.

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)

 

Mountain Justice stages sit-in and protest after Board’s divestment decision

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Last Friday morning, members of Mountain Justice staged a sit-in protest in the office of Chief Investment Officer Mark Amstutz, following the Board of Manager’s decision to continue investment in fossil fuel industries despite a student referendum that urged the Board to divest. Later in the day, the Parrish Hall sit-in transitioned to a rally in Kohlberg Hall to disrupt the Board meeting taking place.

“Our purpose was to ask Mark Amstutz, Greg Brown, Val Smith, and the Board: do you truly stand behind this policy? While we understand that some restraint around using the endowment for social purposes is important, these same standards would have prevented us from divesting from the South African apartheid, a decision that we hope the entire Swarthmore community is glad the Board made,” said members of Mountain Justice in a statement.

According to members of MJ, 80 students plus a few faculty attended the sit-in, and characterized the sit-in as going “smoothly.” However, according to a Daily Gazette article, a “tense confrontation” ensued between Director of Public Safety Mike Hill and another MJ member. MJ members further explained why they chose the sit-in as a method of protest.

“We chose the sit-in because it was a concrete way for us to increase the pressure on the Board to take seriously the referendum and stop rejecting it simply because it would take social considerations into account when making investment decisions,” said the MJ members.

By Friday afternoon, the protest transitioned to a rally at Kohlberg Hall, where a Board of Managers meeting was taking place. During the livestreamed rally on Facebook, protestors sang, chanted, and gave speeches. With students lying on the ground with arms spread wide, the rally concluded with a “die-in,” where students pretended to be dead for approximately 15 minutes. This was meant to be representative of victims of injustice, in this case, climate change. During the die-in, Dean of Students Liz Braun announced that she would be escorting the board members and administration through the Kohlberg kitchen door to not interrupt the protest being held. Members of MJ said that the board’s refusal to engage directly with students was indefensible, in response.

Our goal is always to respect the rights of community members to engage in protest as long as it does not disrupt the business of the College. President Smith and Board Member David Singleton ’68 separately spoke with the students at the sit-in and both had pleasant exchanges,” said Braun in a statement after Friday’s events. She later reiterated the Board’s response to the referendum that had been emailed to the campus a day earlier.

Members of MJ concluded by reiterating their stance on divestment and citing other institutions that had divested from fossil fuels.

“Mountain Justice plans to continue to stand up for the values we want our College to uphold — commitment to leadership for the common good, social responsibility, and dedication to science. The Board’s refusal to engage with the referendum simply because it uses the endowment for social purposes goes against what we stand for as an institution,” they said. “Large universities like Yale, Stanford take social concerns into account when they invest and have all partially divested. Their refusal to consider the student referendum is unconscionable. It is a disrespect to the millions threatened by Trump’s disastrous climate policies and to the students who have overwhelmingly demanded the Board take a stand for our future.”

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