Editorial: The Board should take MJ seriously

We at the Phoenix are dismayed that the Board has not taken Mountain Justice’s invitation to negotiate more seriously. These students have invested substantial time in learning about the issue of divestment, and for the Board to waste their time in meetings where Board members don’t even pretend to negotiate terms of divestment is offensive to these students and to the Swarthmore student body in general.

The call for negotiation is not all or nothing — the Board does not have to agree to immediate divestment from all 200 firms on the list MJ has compiled. It can, for instance, follow Stanford’s example and divest from only coal. Doing so would still send a powerful signal to politicians and energy firms that a leading educational institution demands change. But the Board are not willing to even put the issue on the table. At recent ‘negotiation meetings,’ leading members of the Board did not even bother to show up.

The Board consistently responds to MJ with economic arguments, ignoring that the purpose of divestment is not solely financial. Proponents of divestment do not believe that it will have a significant financial impact on the companies that divestment targets, an idea that has been vocalized by students but ignored by the Board’s members. The Board must begin to consider the political implications of divestment, not just the economic aspects. We know from the case of South Africa that divestment is an immensely effective tool for inciting public discourse. Thus, if the college does not stand to suffer immense financial losses through divestment (which data shows it will not), it should focus on its ability to send a powerful message to the fossil fuel industry.

Furthermore, according to their official website, the Board strives to preserve a “Quaker legacy of social responsibility, simple living, and conservation of resources [to] create a strong foundation for environmental sustainability.” Clearly, divestment is in line with the Board’s mission and recent sustainability initiatives. There must be congruence between our ideology as an institution and our actions: claiming to protect the financial interests of future students loses its validity when we consider what our future will look like without necessary action against climate change. When people discuss the ‘slippery slope’ of divestment, it is important to consider this: climate change poses an undeniable and imminent threat to to all generations — including future generations of Swarthmore students. Divestment from fossil fuels is unique and need not set a precedent for divesting from other potentially objectionable causes.

Not only is the Board failing future Swarthmore students by ignoring calls for negotiation, it is failing the current student body. How can they claim to have our interests in mind if they do not have enough faith in their students to listen to the argument they are ready to present? Continuing to ignore the voice of the student body — the majority of which supports divestment — contradicts the Board’s supposed interest in our intellectual well-being. The Board must get over its fear of “caving to students” and listen to Mountain Justice in earnest. This group of students is not demanding the immediate divestment from all companies on their list, just for their well-researched opinions to be taken seriously.  If Board members refuse to sit down with Mountain Justice members to negotiate even partial divestment of one kind of fossil fuel, then we at the Phoenix support MJ with their pledge of escalation.


  1. This editorial hits the nail on the head! Thank you, Phoenix.
    I am glad that the Board of Managers is striving to preserve a “Quaker legacy of social responsibility….” Unfortunately, they seem to be ignoring one of our Testimonies, that of Stewardship of the planet. Investments in fossil fuels promote both destructive development of those fuels and also emission of greenhouse gases–both are ruinous. I believe, as a practicing Friend, that the Board of Managers is in conflict with the “Quaker heritage” that the College uses to market itself.
    It is my hope that the Board of Managers will act in a truly Quaker way before my 50th reunion in June and acknowledge its responsibility by announcing that it will divest from fossil fuels.
    Richard Grossman, Swarthmore College class of 1965

  2. I couldn’t disagree more. Academic studies have demonstrated that divestment has no detectable impact on financial markets — even in the case of aprtheid, which included boycotts, the market value of affected companies was unaffected. Yet there is huge distrurbance in the life of the academic institution that results from using the endowment to express poitical views. There are much better and more effective ways for a school of Swarthmore
    s standing to oppose climate change, such as the creation of research and the extertion of political pressure. I am as opposd to climate change as the next person, but this is not a “moral” issue of the kind that apartheid was, and divestment is a symbolic, and not meaningful, tool that creates needless stress on campus.

    Those of us who DON’T sign petitions are not apathetic. Some of us think there are better ways.

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