Mountain Justice, Shut Out of Board Meeting, Demonstrates Regardless (Multimedia Spread)

Guido Girgenti '15 reads a statement which demonstrators echo as a 'human microphone' in an effort to reach the Board's earsPhoto by Elena Ruyter '14
Guido Girgenti '15 reads a statement which demonstrators echo as a 'human microphone' in an effort to reach the Board's ears
Photo by Elena Ruyter '14

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

This special Multimedia Spread is put together by the staff of The Daily Gazette. Scroll down the page to read The Daily Gazette’s account of Saturday morning’s events.

From The Daily Gazette on Vimeo. Filming by Vija Lietuvninkas ’14


Photo Spread: Thursday’s Meeting and Saturday’s Demonstration by Mountain Justice

On September 5, Board of Managers Chair Gil Kemp announced that after thorough discussion, the Board had made a final decision not to divest the College’s endowment from investments that support the fossil fuel industry. Since then, the Board, as well as President Chopp and many of her staff, have moved on. Chopp and Kemp have both written that they want to discuss other ways to address climate change, which they view as a serious and pressing concern.

But Swarthmore Mountain Justice, the student group pushing hardest for fossil fuel divestment, and one of the first student groups nationally to advocate on the issue, insists that the debate over divestment is far from finished.

This weekend, members of the Board were on campus for their quarterly meeting. Early Saturday morning, around 30 student members and allies of Mountain Justice, along with faculty allies Mark Wallace and Lee Smithey, gathered to disrupt a closed meeting of the Board and staff in the Scheuer Room. As they approached, Director of Public Safety Mike Hill locked the door.

Improvising, the demonstrators chose to shout their statement, in call-and-response form, through the walls of the meeting room. The statement emphasized what MJ views as the hypocrisy of working to solve climate change without divesting, and they argued that divestment is part of a larger movement that can have a powerful impact. They asked the Board, “Will you move forward with us on divestment in this meeting?”

Then, the demonstrators waited in silence outside the room until the meeting ended.

According to some demonstrators, the Board and staff members began to leave via a back door. MJ appeared there to block the back door. All Board members and staff exited through the main doors, passing the demonstrators in the process.

In response, Chopp and Kemp sent a joint message to students, faculty, and staff on Monday evening. Chopp also submitted a letter to the editor of The Daily Gazette, which appears in the Opinions section of today’s issue.

The full transcript of the statement Mountain Justice’s members read to the Board is reprinted below, courtesy of MJ.

We are here today to bear witness to the continued inaction of this Board.  In your recent letter, you agreed that the climate crisis is urgent.  But if it is wrong to wreck the climate, it is also wrong to profit from that wreckage.  In a meeting with people from the frontlines of extraction, you expressed that you felt moved by their stories.  But if it is wrong for companies to poison people, it is also wrong to profit from that poisoning.

Many of us are pursuing other tactics, from limiting consumption to raising awareness to fighting for legislative changes.  But it makes no sense to work towards carbon neutrality, while our investments legitimize the fossil fuel industry.  In the face of an unprecedented climate crisis and the continued suffering of frontline communities, it is unacceptable to remove divestment from the table.

Divestment is undoubtedly one of the most impactful tactics that is in the Board’s power. Thousands of students in the national divestment movement are looking to Swarthmore for leadership.  Your decision to divest would encourage campuses across the country to take a similarly rigorous strategy to addressing the climate crisis.  With hundreds of schools, churches, and entire cities uniting through this tactic, divestment can shift the political winds and build the movement our world needs.

If you are ready to seriously consider divestment, we are prepared to participate in this conversation with you. If you are not, we will stand here and bear witness to your decision to financially endorse the poisoning of communities and the destruction of our planet.

We will continue to be in your meetings demanding you take action until we see you take concrete steps to fulfill your responsibility to the future of this College and to the future of our generation. So we now ask, once more: Will you move forward with us on divestment in this meeting?

If for any event on campus you have a photo you would like to submit, or if you’re interested in joining our media staff, please send inquiries to Elèna Ruyter ’14, our Multimedia Editor, at eruyter1@swarthmore.edu

This article has been edited post-publication to clarify that all Board members and staff exited the Scheuer Room through the front doors. The originally-published version did not state that anyone exited through the back door, however, the wording was slightly ambiguous. The narration to the video reflects the original wording.


  1. It sounds like this school is not the “right fit” for these students. The Board is doing a good job of providing funding for scholarships and revenue for the school, as it should.

    Perhaps these students need to take some time off and work in the “real world” on these issues.

    • Regardless of your opinion on divestment, I think it’s wrong to say that these students do not fit at Swarthmore. They are upholding a core value of the college by acting on their sense of social responsibility. Even the Board acknowledges that. There are no admissions mistakes.

    • There is no admissions mistake! These students deserve to be at Swarthmore.

      Note: This comment was not posted by the real Jim Bock ’90, Dean of Admissions.

  2. What has mountain justice done to help the environment? Do they do anything else other than parade around and stage “actions”?

  3. This seems to be a continuing cycle with MJ members:

    1. MJ article shows up on DG
    2. Critics of MJ poke holes in MJ’s arguments
    3. 1 or 2 MJ members rebut
    4. “discussion” ensues
    5. Critics comments get upvoted. MJ comments get downvoted.
    6. Lots of questions and criticisms towards MJ go unanswered.
    7. MJ continues to harass the board for not divesting.

    I think it is clear by the comments and votes on the DG that a sizeable (if not majority) chunk of the Swarthmore community have well thought out serious criticisms of MJ’s demands and methods. How can you bo so sure of the intellectuality of your arguments and judgements of “justice” if you fail to answer to the peope who are criticizing you? Isn’t it hypocritical to demand the board meet your demands when you have failed to convince the majority of the student body, who’s demands you claim to represent, of the validity and effectiveness of your demands?

    • To those who downvoted my comment, please let me know why. If there’s something I’m incorrect on please educate me.

      I’m trying to help continue with this discussion that others started, but I’d prefer not to be replying to myself.

  4. i really don’t get what these ppl are trying to accomplish by lining outside scheuer and chanting. it seemed very disrespectful and unproductive.

    Maybe MJ should look into getting more diversity into their movement. Divestment would lower financial aid for Swat and I didn’t see one person of color in the group. It seems like most Swat activists in MJ are coming from privileged, wealthy backgrounds and that divestment wouldn’t hurt them financially whereas there are tons of students at Swat who are on significant financial aid who would be affected by divestment. where are they in MJ???

    Divestment wouldn’t change much – when you sell stocks to these companies, someone else is just going to buy them anyways. If Swat actually kept stock in these companies, they could have a voice in working with these companies. Divestment is the easy way out – relinquishing any sort of power in the situation. That’s like living in a bad neighborhood and selling your house instead of staying there and working with people to fix it.

    I do not agree with divestment nor do I think that these activists’ approach is justifiable or appropriate.

    • Nail on the head right there. MJ is the most classist organization on campus right now. If any other organization’s explicit goal had as much potential to harm underprivileged students as MJ’s does, the campus would probably be up in arms against them. I feel that their continued push for divestment is absolutely an assault on my identity. It is a bunch of kids who most likely pay more for Swarthmore than my parents make in a year telling me that my fears aren’t valid because a few socially responsible firms with a huge incentive for divestment to occur (and probably with confirmation biases) say that it won’t cost the school any money… They literally and figuratively sicken me.

    • I am a member of MJ who wouldn’t be at Swarthmore (or at any school other than CUNY) if it weren’t for my generous financial aid package. A number of members of Mountain Justice are in the same boat I am in. I would not be advocating for divestment if I did not genuinely believe, based on research from a range of (mostly mainstream) economists and my understanding of how Swarthmore’s finances function, that 1) divestment will not diminish returns on the endowment’s investments in any significant way and 2) any potential losses do NOT need to be borne by the operating budget of the college (which is only a fraction of the endowment, and the pool of money that financial aid comes out of).

      To address your point about staying invested in fossil fuel extraction companies so we can “have a voice” with them: shareholder activism is not a viable way to fight environmental injustice and climate change. Companies can throw out any shareholder resolutions that threaten to impact the company’s ordinary business operations. If you believe, as I do, that the ordinary operations of companies that do fossil fuel extraction are entirely unsustainable and pose tremendous threats to already-marginalized communities (and the whole world in the not-so-long-term), than it is not enough to put energy into “reforming” company practices so that they are less blatantly disruptive.

      If you have any questions about this or would like to discuss in more detail, feel free to e-mail me: sarablazevic@gmail.com.

      • Sara, I’ll ask you the same questions I asked another MJ member:

        What SRI is there that returned a similar rate of return that Swarthmore has received in the past 10 years? Are there any?

        Are there companies that this fund invests in that are equally if not more egregious in participating in “bad” business practices? How did MJ come up this list of sixteen?

        Is a goal of MJ to eventually force the school to divest from *ALL* “bad” companies? What effect would this have on the endowment?

        • SRIs that are doing better than Swat? Sure, that’s easy, here’s one doing 13.5% at the moment- http://www.calvert.com/fundProfile.html?fund=964&fundOwner=C
          It would be misleading and unfair for me to leave it at that. The real issue is finding a large number of them. We keep out endowment invested in a very diverse range of investment groups. Of course, there’s certainly no shortage of them, and finding a number of them with average returns of 8.7 shouldn’t be that hard for people who make a career of this. Here’s some more information about SRI funds and their performances if you’re interested: http://www.sristudies.org/Key+Studies
          (And that’s general SRI, which is a far stronger restriction than divestment)

          Yes, a divested fund would also likely have a lot of other horrible companies. SRI funds are much better, and work to actively weed out companies whos morals slip. You can look up NorthStar Asset Management, for example. For me, personally, fossil fuel companies are a special kind of evil as they are harbingers of the apocalypse in a very real sense, and they seem like a good place to start.

          No, I don’t think it is the goal of Mountain Justice as an entity to see a completely SRI endowment, though I think everyone in it would love to see that happen. At this point, we’re having a hard enough time getting the board to cut fossil fuels, to have a bigger ask would be a lot harder to convince them of right now.
          As for the impact on the endowment, see above about SRI funds. The endowment would be absolutely fine.

          • Nathan, your attempt to “prove” that there are SRIs outperforming Swarthmore’s managed funds using CAAAX here is either clueless or intellectually dishonest. Calvert’s 13.5% return is a YEAR TO DATE return. The fund does not make 13.5% every year–it has made 13.5% so far THIS year. The market has been up this year, so several funds have had dramatically good rates of return this year. Unfortunately, Calvert’s fund has significantly underperformed the S&P 500 (a major index fund), which has a 18.53% ytd right now.

            Swarthmore does not have a guaranteed rate of return of around 8% every year. Some years, we have a higher rate of return and others a lower rate, based on the market performance that year. You can’t compare Swarthmore’s historic performance in the market over the course of years to the performance of a SRI fund in ONE year. It’s comparing apples and oranges. To get a more accurate comparison for your Calvert fund, you should look at its performance since inception (4.15%, or HALF of Swarthmore’s). Maybe it isn’t as easy as a google search.

            So this brings me back to whether you are being clueless here or intellectually dishonest. If you are clueless, then you should consider talking to our alums who are in socially responsible investing, the people who oversaw divestment during apartheid, and maybe even take an econ class or two in the area. If you want to be taken seriously, you should know better than to present data like this.

            If you are being intellectually dishonest, deliberately misrepresenting the fund’s performance to try to make a point, than I suggest you consider why you’re trying so hard to make divestment seem easy. Are you so dedicated to this idea that you have to lie to make points about it, that you can’t see the downsides to divesting? For us (doubting Swatties) to take you seriously, you need to show that you have thought through the positives and negatives of this decision fully, and that you can make honest and intelligent arguments in the debate. We ask you questions and poke holes in your argument and you ignore us instead of talking with us. If you push for divestment, make sure it is because you have weighed all the options and decided it is the best thing, rather than clinging desperately to the idea while ignoring even the most well-meaning critics.

          • Adding on to the arguments that “A Scientist” made:

            The reason the fund you suggested has done so poorly since inception is a reflection of its 2008 performance where it lost 37.32%. That’s a staggering number.

            To compare, Swarthmore lost 15% in 2008. Despite doing more than twice as well as the fund you suggested (in minimizing lost), this decline was the worst in Swarthmore’s history and its effects were felt school-wide.


          • In response to Scientist and Huzillia:

            I apologize for the misunderstanding. I’ll be back this evening, but I have to run to class at the moment.

          • Can I have your permission to distribute this around campus? I think it is something everyone should see.

            Right now, there has not been a response to this critique. I feel that this silence is VERY telling.

          • How exactly is this silence “telling,” and what is your criteria for silence in the first place?

            A Scientist took two days to respond to Nathan, but that “silence” turned into a critique that obviously has your support, let MJ take its time to write a good rebuttal. Personally, I would rather a well-reasoned post in a few hours or days than a hastily written one right now.

            You’re free to disagree with Mountain Justice, as I do, but at least let them speak, don’t just dismiss them because they might not be speaking as quickly as you would like.

          • You are right; I was premature. I thought that for an issue that is so important to MJ that they would respond very quickly to what was, in my opinion, a damning comment if they have a good rebuttal, which I did not think they could possibly have. However, you are right, I should have given time to hear a rebuttal.

            TL;DR: I was wrong, public forum. Discourse should happen before jumping to conclusions.

          • Not that I don’t respect Nathan for attempting to address the criticisms of his position, but I think it’s important for others in MJ besides him to respond as well. Nathan shouldn’t have to bear full responsibility for addressing every concern.

          • That’s probably because most MJ members know far less than Nathan does about economics in general and finance in particular. For example, I have overheard a divestment supporter (I do not know if that person is a part of MJ) say, “I don’t know anything about economics. I just know they’re shitty.” Granted, that’s only one person, but in my conversations with people in MJ, they haven’t been much better. If someone like those people posted on the forums, they would get demolished by our finance alums and not help their cause in the slightest.

          • My sincerest apologies for the lateness. A ton of stuff came up and midterms aren’t helping. Anyway, yes, I know that 13.5% was YTD, hence “here’s one doing 13.5% at the moment-” and not “since it started”. I did post the link with intent and hope for people like you to look at it, I didn’t think it was particularly deceptive and I apologize if it wasn’t clear.
            You’re right that Swat’s 8% isn’t guaranteed. I mean, this whole argument is rather silly, it is fairly baseline knowledge that you can never assume that any group will continue to perform in a certain way based on past performance. But alas, that’s the baseline Chris N. used, so we’re stuck with it. (I mean, even if I was correct, I don’t expect anyone would accept an argument that Swat could suddenly do much worse with our current set of managers and divested funds could do much better in the near future, without some good reason. Of course, the Carbon bubble actually is a pretty solid reason to believe that, but I digress)
            I’m not trying to be intellectually dishonest, and while I’m certainly not clueless, I’m also certainly not the “resident economist” as was suggested below either. I HAVE been talking with Alumns in SRI. The entire endowment structure was fundamentally different during the apartheid divestment campaign, so such comparisons aren’t terribly helpful. Yes, I should probably take some classes on the topic, though others in MJ are already, I’m sure they’d be happy to talk to you.
            It is worth noting that there are other much more solid reasons to believe that divestment won’t cost anything that I shouldn’t discuss on here. Feel free to email me at ngraf1@swarthmore.edu (preferably with a non-swat email account) if you want to talk about it, and hopefully I can get back to you over Fall break. Ideally, we could even get a meal or something and discuss it at length.
            As for why I’m present here and MJ doesn’t have a ton of other people, there area a few factors. For one, we’re a handful of people and we’re putting a ton of energy into actions, connections with frontline activists, working with the national divestment network, talking with Swarthmore alums, board members, and faculty, and working on a ton of other stuff. Unfortunately we’re too few people with too little time to do massive outreach to much of the student body at the moment and our choice medium has been conversations with friends over meals to explain things. (and events, like Divestment and Donuts, etc.) Once upon a time, we did have student support. We had a petition with ~700 Swarthmore student signatures. (Spring 2012, I think? I wasn’t here at the time) MJ has had a number of conversations and I think we mostly agree that it doesn’t feel good for us to win without the support of the student body. Unfortunately, it isn’t nearly as high a priority as it should be because it isn’t a strategic investment of energy for us. The board has quite explicitly stated that they aren’t accountable to the student body, and don’t see themselves as in negotiation with us. The board (or at least the members of the board who have been controlling the dialog on divestment) don’t care what the student body as a whole thinks.
            As for me being here in particular, I think that’s more a factor of me just not being able to refrain from replying when I see things I know are incorrect. I’m really not any more qualified to be here than any other MJ member. (my role in the group has been more liaising with the board/admin, not finance/econ stuff)

  5. Daily Gazette Editors: The video unambiguously states that board members exited through the back door. If you’re going to smear the board instead of proving your points for divestment, at least get your facts right. I believe you owe them an apology, or at least a correction in the video.

    (Don’t give me any bs about how you can’t edit the video–I received a national award for filmmaking. Editing would take less than thirty minutes.)

    • Dear Mary,

      Thank you for your comment.

      In the video, the narrator states, “According to some demonstrators, the Board members and staff began to leave through a back door. But after MJ appeared there as well, they exited through the main doors…”

      It is clear that the claim anyone exited through a door other than the main doors is nothing other than a claim made by “some demonstrators.” Therefore this paper has its facts strictly correct.

      That being said, according to staff, no one exited through the back doors. We acknowledge that this fact was not stated in the video. That and the fact that you and others have interpreted the video as you did suggests it is slightly biased. We will consider correcting the video. A correction to the video transcript was made twelve hours ago along these lines, and you can read the accompanying correction statement above the comments section.

      As to your second sentence, The Daily Gazette does not take any stance whatsoever on the issue of divesting from any sort of investments. Our Editorial Board has not published an editorial on the issue in at least the past two years. Opinions pieces published in The Daily Gazette do not reflect the views of the Editorial Board as an entity. We work constantly, if imperfectly, to be neutral in our reporting and to incorporate as many voices as possible.

      Andrew Karas
      The Daily Gazette

    • It was written as “some demonstrators” asserted that board members left through the back door because “some demonstrators” were spoken to. Ask any protesters present and they will confirm that board members did indeed leave through the back door. If other folks present (public safety, etc.) are willing to be honest, they will tell you the same.

      • Seriously Mountain Justice? All these comments on this thread critiqueing the academic value of your arguments and this is the once you respond to?

        I have absolutely no respect for your group at all.

  6. MJ would do a lot more good for the environment by advocating for new dryers in all the dorm laundry rooms. The existing dryers are old, highly energy inefficient and do mot work well. There are wasting energy during each and every load.

    • I mean this in the least rude way possible, but is this a joke? Climate change is not going to be mitigated (let alone reversed) by changes in individual consumption of energy alone. This is too large a problem to solve SOLELY with lightbulbs or more energy efficient appliances (I think that those things are really good measures to take anyway – I just think you’re kidding yourself if you think they can affect the structural changes we need). Check out this article about the climate “point of no return” recently published by the IPCC: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/09/we-are-terrifyingly-close-to-the-climates-point-of-no-return/280076/.

      • I mean this in the least rude way possible, but if you think there’s a 50% chance that we will reach this “point of no return”, then trying to convince the board to divest (in reply to this belief) is also a joke.

      • Yes, by all means, keep trying to “save the world” in grandiose and improbable ways instead of actively trying to improve your own environment.

        • They are by no means mutually exclusive.
          But I do have to note that you use improbable as a dismissive term. Would it not be absolutely worth it if it were at all possible? I mean, climate change is set to cost us 400 trillion with a T. (And that’s actual cost, unlike the endowment cost which just means the money goes to someone else) On a certain very approximate level of theory, it would be a nearly even trade off for Swat to lose 200 million (it won’t lose anything, really) if it granted a 1 in 2 million chance at stopping climate change. Of course, it isn’t a dichotomy between victory and failure, and “cost” is a complicated concept, but I think that puts the magnitude of the different sides into perspective.

          PS: The green advisors have drying racks in the dorm laundry rooms no? Are there dorms that are missing them?

  7. When these students stop using cars, planes, buses, trains and other vehicles that utilize fossil fuels, and try to change their immediate environment, then they will have a lot more credibility.

    Don’t use products made by grossly underpaid overseas workers that are then transported using vehicles utilizing fossil fuels (that would mean no iphones or ipads).

    I think the comment here about the clothes dryers on campus being energy inefficient is the most astute. Work on your own environment in a positive way. Don’t wear clothing that has been transported by fossil fuel using trucks. Bicycle, don’t use cars. Use wood stoves, with logging being respectful of the environment. No air conditioning. Grow your own food, don’t eat food transported by fossil fuel using vehicles.

    The above is all possible and being done all over the US.

    Standing outside a meeting and being disruptive to people who have already answered their concerns is really just redundant at this point.

    It is too easy just to shout outside of a room than really change the environment.

  8. “1) divestment will not diminish returns on the endowment’s investments in any significant way and 2) any potential losses do NOT need to be borne by the operating budget of the college (which is only a fraction of the endowment, and the pool of money that financial aid comes out of).”

    First of all, last year those who manage the endowment convincingly showed that the potential loss would be $120 million. What makes students more capable of calculating this?

    Since there will be financial losses, how does this not affect the school? Is $120 million just fun money?

    Can you really name profitable companies that do not exploit either human beings or the environment? The only institutions that do this are organic, self-sustaining farms. In fact, any company that pays taxes will be participating in exploitation of the environment. Even just putting the money in a bank is supporting the many exploitative financial institutions in this country.

    This divestment movement is just not tenable. it reminds me of the Occupy Wall Street participants who would have their daily meetings in an air conditioned bank building, while texting on their iphones, paid for by their parents making money in the financial sector.

    • “First of all, last year those who manage the endowment convincingly showed that the potential loss would be $120 million. What makes students more capable of calculating this?”

      “convincingly” is a little kind. Setting aside that they neglected to include a ton of obvious factors in their calculations without ever stating their assumptions (inflation, changes in donations, the carbon bubble popping, assuming that everyone will continue to perform as well for all eternity as they did in the past ten years, that actively managed funds aren’t inherently better choices than index funds because of the management fees, etc. etc. )
      Their entire argument was also dependent on the idea that they would have to switch all of their actively managed funds to index funds. This is extremely silly 1) because there are a ton of actively managed funds out there that screen for fossil fuels (and a lot of other stuff for that matter. It is standard practice for colleges to screen for tobacco, handguns etc. and their endowments are fine. Swat doens’t)
      2) Chris Niemczewski neglected to mention that he himself is the head of one of these actively managed funds. He seems to be claiming that he as chair of the Swat investments committee would be unable to convince himself as head of Marshfield Associates to bother to screen for fossil fuels.

      Students aren’t more capable of doing this. We’re just a little more interested in actually doing so.

      And actually, yes, even if it did cost that much, hundreds of millions actually are “fun money” when you’re looking at a 1.6 billion dollar endowment growing at 8.7 % annually. Especially since it doesn’t impact the working budget, just the rate at which the endowment grows. (slightly)

      And no, there are no completely innocent institutions on a certain level. If you want to look more into it, there are a lot of SRI folks who do try to find those companies. But a company being complicit in climate change isn’t quite the same as being the primary driver behind it, and actively undermining attempts to ameliorate climate change.

    • As someone with some knowledge about how college endowments work, I want to respond to the concerns of “A Scientist” and this comment called “opinion.” Yes, you’re right–Nathan didn’t write an example of a fund that outperformed when you asked for one.

      But that’s not the point. You asked the wrong question. Swarthmore invests in dozens of funds and it’s wrong to think “can we find a fund that beats Swat” when the whole point of investing in many funds is it reduces risk (less downside) while hopefully increasing returns. One fund can’t do that. Swat invests in many funds which have no fossil fuels at all and definitely none of the 16 companies: real estate, private equity, and any small cap funds, just to name a few. This is not a huge ask.

      The school’s analysis just compared the schools past returns to the past returns of a fossil free index. Again– apples to oranges–what about getting managers that Swarthmore has to screen these companies. There may be some initial minimal costs, but it won’t be anywhere near 100million. If the administration says it will really cost that money, let them publicize an expert, independent analysis of the different options for divestment from these 16 companies rather than a non-study done internally without real data.

      • As the commenter who initially challenged Nathan to find a single SRI that has outperformed Swat’s rate of return, and someone developing a background in finance and portfolio management in the “real world”, let me explain to you the importance and logic behind this challenge.
        Mountain Justice has long argued that the monetary cost of divestment would be small, if anything. It acknowledges that the school has enjoyed an 8.4% annual return in the past ten. Therefore, if MJ wants Swarthmore to invest in SRIs instead of Swarthmore’s current funds, it needs to show that there are several (hundreds) of SRIs that have outperformed Swarthmore’s rate of return in the past. This is simple elementary backtesting.

        If it is so difficult to find SRIs that have outperformed Swat in the past, where hindsight is 20-20 and rates of return are publicly available, how could one even begin to suggest that it easy to find SRIs that will outperform swat in the future. Keep in mind that for Swat to invest in SRIs while maintaining its average rate of return, about half of the new funds it invests would have to exceed its rate return in its current portfolio strategy, because about half would not be able to do so. Therefore, identifying SRIs that have outperformed Swarthmore in the past is not the “wrong question”; it exactly what Swarthmore would have to do to divest from companies that aren’t considered “green”.
        It is true that Swarthmore would not need to invest in an index fund like the S&P 500 to divest. But the most recent SRI suggested by Nathan actually performed worse than S&P. This makes the board’s estimate that it would lose $250 million (not $100 million) in ten years seem conservative and reasonable.

        Because Nathan seems to be regarded as Mountain Justice’s “resident economist”, the fact that he proposed that Swat could have invested in Calvert should make one question whether MJ has any idea what they are talking about. An “expert, independent analysis”, is not necessary to prove the lack of thought that has been given to this campaign. Mountain Justice is proving that already.




        tl;dr If you say that investing in SRIs won’t lose Swat money, you need to suggest an SRI that has performed as well as swat in the past

        • Huzilla-

          I’m not sure you read my post clearly or understood it. My point is that comparing “SRI Funds” to the whole endowment is a moot point. MJ is not suggesting that the school move the entire endowment into SRI funds but that they divest from 16 companies that are based in the US. Do you know the returns that the US Equity portion of Swarthmore endowment? That would be the appropriate measure. You could potentially compare SRI funds to that–though we may still disagree– but no one is suggesting, for instance, that Swarthmore change it’s real estate portfolio. That portfolio may have generated 16 percent returns and the equity portfolio 6%.

          Likewise, the board would only have to change that same portion of the portfolio, not every single fund, even IF they couldn’t get their managers to just screen out the 16 companies, of which surely some would.

  9. First, we not only need to divest from all fossil-fuel index funds, but also we MUST divest from ANY company whose stocks are listed on an exchange with fossil fuel companies. Every company must pay for a spot on the exchange, therefore, by using a stock exchange like the NYSE, we are benefiting from fossil fuel companies’ destruction of the environment for profit.
    Either we need to start our own green stock exchange, or we should invest in something like organic, sustainable farms which do not use fossil-fuel consuming machinery in production or transportation. And of course pay all their workers a living wage.

    Second, in this thread people talked about the need for more energy efficient appliances. Absolutely. We also need to make sure that this energy is produced ONLY by sustainable methods. We also need to take other steps to FULLY ELIMINATE our carbon footprint. One of the first things that we MUST do IMMEDIATELY is eliminate the ML/PPR shuttle. As any MLer will tell you, the walk “isn’t that far.” Why are we contributing the killing of Earth, for a walk that isn’t that far? It is probably a fraction of the time a walk to get water in the Global South takes thanks to our complicity in environmental destruction. Unless you actually want to be morally responsible for all of humanity to disappear, there are no good arguments for keeping this shuttle. There are many other things that must be done, but this is just an example of one thing that we must do IMMEDIATELY.

    Finally, as I have said before, these suggestions will most likely not be popular, but it takes courage to be on the right side of history. A school that prides itself on social responsibility like Swarthmore should be more than willing to take these steps. Remember, this is about JUSTICE.

    • Cancelling the shuttle could endanger women (and men) walking alone at night in the dark, and start a whole new comment thread. Don’t mix issues.

      How about canceling the Tri-Co shuttles until they divest, as well?

      Otherwise, great comment.

  10. As an alum I’ve thus far largely steered away from the MJ Mayhem of late. However, reading Nathan Graf’s response gave rise to a simple question. His comment on October 9 was (for some reason I can’t reply right there):

    “It is worth noting that there are other much more solid reasons to believe that divestment won’t cost anything that I shouldn’t discuss on here. Feel free to email me at ngraf1@swarthmore.edu (preferably with a non-swat email account) if you want to talk about it, and hopefully I can get back to you over Fall break. Ideally, we could even get a meal or something and discuss it at length.”

    On October 1, Econ Alum ’12 wrote:

    “I think it is clear by the comments and votes on the DG that a sizeable (if not majority) chunk of the Swarthmore community have well thought out serious criticisms of MJ’s demands and methods. How can you bo so sure of the intellectuality of your arguments and judgements of “justice” if you fail to answer to the peope who are criticizing you? Isn’t it hypocritical to demand the board meet your demands when you have failed to convince the majority of the student body, who’s demands you claim to represent, of the validity and effectiveness of your demands?”

    It is almost as though Nathan’s responses, though clearly well intended, have demonstrated exactly what Econ Alum pointed out about MJ. If good reasons for the MJ cause exist, and those good reasons are better than the reasons given so far, why not put them forward and have the greater Swarthmore community grapple with the best claims, rather than the mediocre ones?

    I highly doubt that Nathan’s goal was to play hide the ball. On the contrary, I’m fairly convinced, having watched his respectful demeanor and earnest attempts, that he genuinely wants to generate a high quality discussion on the issues at hand. But instead we as a community are left with a sort of tease in the wake of an on-point comment accusing MJ of dodging the questions it needs to address.

    So, This is really a call for answers. I’m echoing Econ Alum in that respect. Nathan doesn’t have to be the one to respond, I feel bad singling him out specifically. But as I’m not at Swat anymore, I don’t know who comprises MJ. Regardless, someone from MJ ought speak up, since at this point MJ has been put on notice by countless members of the Swarthmore community to provide answers.

    • I admit I’m a little annoyed here. I’ve not received any emails about this, and I’m a little confused why if 11 people just liked your above comment, presumably demonstrating interest to hear those arguments. Is this an identity thing? It isn’t that hard to set up an anonymous gmail or something. Is it hiding the ball if I tell you where to find it? Does anyone have an alternative suggestion that might be somehow better for y’all to communicate with me? I’ll be happy to tell you why I’m not talking here in those private conversations. I don’t mean to tease, I actually want you all to email me.

      I also might push back on “at this point MJ has been put on notice by countless members of the Swarthmore community to provide answers.”
      I think that the DG comments are representative of those with strong enough opinions on a topic to bother commenting. My experience is that most of the campus is casually supportive. (of course, that could be just as biased by the social circles I live in.) We’re always happy to talk at our events (of course that’s less accessible to an alum) in personal conversations, or by personal emails. (Or, if you prefer, SwarthmoreMJ@gmail.com)

      • I think the reason why 11 people liked the comment isn’t that hard to discern. If I broke the evolution of this thread down (VERY BASICALLY, I’m skipping lots of stuff):

        1. MJ continues its activities, folks are not all persuaded, folks ask why.
        2. One person points out that the good arguments that “apparently” exist never come forward, and in response to counter claims a new, identical conversation arises because things never move forward.
        3. You (Nathan) get into a very interesting conversation on here with another person.
        4. At the point in that conversation thread where all of a sudden **TRUMPETS ON HIGH** new arguments and information should enter, and with great acclaim, you provide instead an email address inviting folks to ask you individually if they want to know more of your arguments.
        5. I point out that your comment follows the pattern illustrated by the person in #2 of this mini list.

        And then we get to your response.

        I suppose to make my comments make a bit more sense to you, let me try putting it a different way:

        IF the additional arguments that you have are so great that they bring the conversation to a new level, why is it that you are unwilling to post them generally? In the same way that you kind of chide folks for not emailing you, and you point out the ease of making a fake email address, by the same token you can post to the DG using a pseudonym and/or use a fake email address. What are you so afraid of that you would eschew the opportunity to educate the broader Swarthmore community of your vantage point?

        As another practical matter, if these arguments are so… sensitive?… Would I be allowed to distribute them? You’ve created this spectre out of these lines of analysis, and none of us ordinary folk understand why that is the case. Why only promulgate weaker arguments and evidence, and hide away more persuasive material?

        I also just want to clarify, “put on notice” is in reference to a much more expansive timeline than just since this DG article was posted. MJ has been receiving attention for quite some time, and for quite some time folks have been asking questions in response. The desire for good, strong arguments is not new.

        As a matter of motive, my motive is to get MJ to put its best intellectual, nuanced, well-researched foot forward so that the broader community might engage. Someone like me, for example, I could never even potentially come to a MJ event and learn what these arguments are, being an alumnus not located nearby. That is my motive for insisting on a public forum. What is your/MJ’s motion for shirking responsibility as an organization advocating the position at issue to actually advocate?

        So, really, is the breakdown here my fault (or our fault as other posters that haven’t emailed you), or your fault for having equally simple means at your disposal?

        • I apologize for the lack of clarity, your comment makes a lot of sense on a certain level and I understand why 11 liked it, I just don’t understand why none of those 11 (except 1 now!) haven’t then emailed me.

          If you really want to know why I’m not posting them here, then seriously, just email me and I’ll tell you. It isn’t even that exciting, I’m certainly not going for “trumpets on high”.

          I don’t think this is anyone’s fault, and I don’t really think it qualifies as “breakdown”. It just is, and I’m just going to keep telling people to email me until they do it.

          (And as a side note, I’m going to test to see if the DG will let my comment through if I only include a single link: http://www.socialfunds.com/funds/profile.cgi?sfFundId=352)

  11. Also, I keep trying to respond to the issues with links to ~10 SRI funds that have done better than Swat since their inception and have environmental screens, but it keeps vanishing after I try to comment. I don’t need to talk with people personally to give those examples.

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