On Monday night, five members of Swarthmore Mountain Justice met with five members of the Board of Managers to discuss a newly released proposal for divestment of the college’s endowment from fossil fuels. The meeting produced no significant progress towards divestment.
According to Stephen O’Hanlon ’17, a member of Mountain Justice, the organization of this meeting began last fall after the college’s largest financial consultant, Cambridge Associates, announced that it was willing to help the college divest from fossil fuels. Since then, Mountain Justice has asked Chair of the Board Gil Kemp ’72 and Investment Committee Chair Chris Niemczewski ’74 multiple times for a meeting to prepare a proposal to bring to the February Board meeting.
“Based on Gil Kemp’s suggestion, we met twice with Greg Brown and Mark Amstutz from the Finance and Investment Office to develop a proposal,” O’Hanlon wrote in an email. From these meetings, O’Hanlon anticipated that the meeting on Monday night was going to further progress towards divestment. He said that the meetings with Mr. Amstutz and Mr. Brown had been constructive, and they expected to continue the refinement of their proposal on February 2, in preparation for it to be brought to the full Board in February.
O’Hanlon cited wide support across the college community as the reason for Mountain Justice’s confidence going into the meeting.
Nearly 1,000 students, over 70 faculty, and 500 alumni have called on the Board to pursue divestment through their signatures. Mountain Justice fully expected the Board to respond to the mandate and work with them to develop a plan for divestment that would be presented at the February Board meeting.
On Monday night, O’Hanlon, along with other Mountain Justice members Sara Blazevic ’15, Guido Girgenti ’15, Christopher Malafronti ’18, Sophia Zaia ’18 met with Board members Susan Levine ’78, David Gelber ’63, Elizabeth Economy ’84, Gustavo Schwed ’84, David Singleton ’68, and Salem Shuchman ’84 to discuss the proposal.
The proposal asks for the Board to commit to full fossil fuel divestment by 2020, the same year that the United Nations says global emissions must peak if the world is to avoid catastrophic climate change. Based on the results of Monday’s meeting, this may not be in line with the Board’s goals.
Mountain Justice members said that some Board members did not seriously engage with their proposal during the meeting.
“They did not come with the intention of collaborating with us on improving the proposal, refining the details or outlining potential next steps,” Girgenti wrote in an email. Niemczewski and Kemp were noticeably absent from the meeting, which Mountain Justice says is an indication that the Board did not intend for this meeting to produce concrete outcomes.
“Kemp, Niemczewski, and the Board have turned their backs on our generation and have chosen to side with a rogue industry,” Girgenti continued. He said that given the urgency of the climate crisis and the mandate from the campus community for action, the meeting was deeply disappointing.
“The Board and the Chair of Investments have failed us repeatedly. They took far too long to divest from the racist apartheid regime in South Africa, and once again, they are choosing to stand on the wrong side of history,” Girgenti continued.
“Fossil fuel investments are in the public eye and as the school where this movement began, the world is watching us. It is unconscionable for Swarthmore … to invest in and legitimize the fossil fuel companies that are wrecking the climate, poisoning communities, and jeopardizing the very future for which our education is meant to prepare us,” O’Hanlon wrote on Mountain Justice’s Facebook page.
“Some Board members expressed interest in working with MJ to identify fossil-free investment opportunities. But it was clear that we need to push Chris Niemczewski’s Investment Committee to move our proposal forward, and to do that we need to keep applying pressure,” he said in regard to Mountain Justice’s future plans.
Board members have expressed concern that divestment is an economically unsound move for the College, which may be a contributing factor in their decision. It remains unclear whether Kemp, Niemczewski, and the rest of the Board will work with Mountain Justice on further refining the proposal for divestment.