Five members of Mountain Justice will meet with five members of the Board of Managers on Monday to discuss a proposal for divestment, which MJ hopes will be brought to a vote at the full Board meeting this February. MJ developed the proposal after meeting with Vice President for Finance and Administration Greg Brown and Chief Investment Officer Mark Amstutz.
The proposal asks that the Board of Managers commit to full fossil fuel divestment by 2020, the same year which the United Nations says that global emissions must peak in order to avoid catastrophic climate change.
“We expect to continue the refinement of our proposal and the process that we began through meetings with the Finance and Investments Office,” Stephen O’Hanlon ’17 said.
O’Hanlon is one of the five MJ members, including Sara Blazevic ’15, Guido Girgenti ’15, Chris Malafronti ’18 and Sophia Zaia ’18, who will meet with the Board on Monday.
Since the Board of Managers’ December meeting, Amstutz and Brown have met twice with O’Hanlon and Girgenti about their proposals for divestment, Brown said via email.
“We understand that the students plan to make their case for divestment based on recent events as well as new information that they plan to provide,” Brown said.
The meeting between MJ and Board members comes in the wake of a series of victories on the part of the divestment movement, both on and off campus last semester.
In September, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, an $860 million philanthropic institution, announced that it would divest from fossil fuels, bringing the total amount pledged towards divestment by various institutions and individuals to more than $50 billion.
November brought major news from Cambridge Associates, the college’s largest financial consultant. Cambridge, which advises 71 percent of the largest college and university endowments and is the highest-paid financial advisement firm hired by the college, announced that it would provide a fossil-free portfolio option for institutions that wished to divest.
In December, students delivered the signatures of more than 800 students who had signed onto MJ’s petition calling for divestment to the Board of Managers. The total number of signatures has since risen to nearly 1000, in addition to more than 500 alumni and faculty member signatures.
The Board published an open letter in the fall of 2013 justifying its decision not to divest and has not changed its position since that time.
Brown said that the college’s decision not to divest was made after a lengthy and thoughtful process. MJ members met with members of the Board and the college administration more than 25 times between 2011 and 2013.
“Based on the Board’s deliberations at that time, the need to preserve intergenerational equity and the desire to make tangible improvements on campus outweighed the symbolic arguments for divestment,” Brown said.
Chair of the Board of Managers Gil Kemp ’72 discussed via email the Board members’ expectations for the Monday meeting. Kemp’s expectations differ from those of the MJ members.
Kemp noted that many current members of MJ were not enrolled at the college when the initial discussion of divestment took place.
“Meeting now provides an important opportunity to share a bit about the history and rationale for our decision, as well as our perspective on the college’s current actions on climate change,” Kemp said. Kemp expects the meeting will cover February’s sustainability charrette (a discussion of over 160 ideas from the campus community about sustainability); the Cambridge announcement, which Kemp noted did not claim divestment could be accomplished without cost; and the Investment Committee’s perspective on the potential cost of divestment.
Kemp also said he hopes to share “the Board’s view that the endowment is not meant to be a tool of persuasion no matter how worthy the cause but rather is meant to provide resources from generation to generation, and the board’s skepticism about the efficacy of the tactic of divestment to actually help stem climate change.”
“The Board reached its decision not to divest from fossil fuels following those conversations, as well as substantial research, discussion, debate and consultation with others in our community,” Kemp said. “While we share Mountain Justice’s sense that climate change is THE most pressing issue of our time, we do not feel divestment will be an effective tactic to combat it.”
Both Kemp and Brown stressed the college’s ongoing efforts towards sustainability, which include a commitment to carbon neutrality by 2035, the Board’s December agreement to invest an additional $12 million to ensure that the planned Biology, Engineering and Psychology Building will be built to the highest possible standards of sustainability and the February sustainability charette.
“The College’s progress in these areas are meaningful and will have a substantial impact on our future carbon usage,” Brown said. “The issues regarding climate change and carbon neutrality are exceptionally complex, and it is in the College’s best tradition that we strive to address them together.” He added that he hoped that the Monday meeting would lead to continued constructive dialogue about the ways in which the college and its community members could have a positive impact on the planet.
Kemp noted that he was pleased that the Board had worked with members of MJ and other student organizers to host a symposium on hydrofracking during the December Board meeting.
“We look forward to continuing this important work and hope to keep the conversation moving productively forward together with Mountain Justice, as well as many campus constituencies,” Kemp said. “There is also a new idea and approach we want to propose during our time together next week,” he added.
Kemp said that the five Board members participating in Monday’s meeting will report on the discussion at the full Board meeting in February.
“Although I do not know what they will recommend, I do know that they are all both knowledgeable about climate change and committed to individually and institutionally making a positive difference on this issue,” he said.
MJ members remained optimistic about the outcome of the Monday meeting and their overall campaign.
“We expect the Board to respond to the mandate from the student body,” O’Hanlon said.
Blazevic agreed, recalling that the Board members stated a desire to create space for the entire community to weigh in on the issue of divestment upon receiving MJ’s petition.
“As far as we’re concerned, the whole community has weighed in,” Blazevic said. “We are holding them accountable to what students, faculty and alumni are demanding.