No divestment, no donations, some alums say

More than 300 alumni have pledged to withhold donations to the college until the Board of Managers agrees to divest, Mountain Justice announced yesterday.

Stephen O’Hanlon ’17 said that he had been working with a group of alumni since the fall of 2013 to spread awareness about Mountain Justice’s divestment campaign and ensure that alumni voices were heard.

“Alumni’s main link to the college is through official college communication and the alumni bulletin, both of which have not included coverage of pro-divestment perspectives,” O’Hanlon said.

More than 1000 alumni from over 60 different class years have signed Mountain Justice’s petition calling on the Board to divest from fossil fuels.

“The recently begun sit-in shows the students’ commitment to this important cause,” said Fran Putnam ’69, one alumna who has decided not to donate until the college divests.

Putnam was able to attend Swarthmore thanks to a generous scholarship, and, since her graduation, has been a loyal donor to the college each year. Following her 45th reunion in June of 2014, however, Putnam decided to direct her annual donation to the college to Mountain Justice’s Responsible Endowment Fund, where the money will be held until the college divests from a set list of fossil fuel companies. This marked the first time Putnam had ever not made her annual donation, a significant decision.

She emphasized her strong support for students participating in the sit-in who, Putnam believes, are partaking in a lengthy tradition of Swarthmore students leading movements for social justice.

“My concern about global warming is so great that I am taking this step to encourage Swarthmore to divest now, not when all the other colleges have done so,” Putnam said. “Investment in fossil fuels is morally wrong, pure and simple.”

Putnam added that she had also pledged to increase her annual donation if the college chooses to divest, and encouraged other alumni to consider taking similar steps in as public a fashion as possible.

The announcement that more than 300 alumni will withhold donations come as Mountain Justice’s sit-in, which dozens of alumni have joined, stretches into its third week. The second week was marked by a visit from renowned environmentalist Bill McKibben, who joined the sit-in and led a rally for divestment in Upper Tarble, which was attended by more than 150 students.

Numerous other colleges and universities have seen increasing pressure to divest from fossil fuels (more than 300 campuses have divestment groups, and sit-ins have spread to campuses such as Bowdoin College and University of Mary Washington). Hundreds of alumni at Oxford University have similarly pledged to withhold donations until the university divests, and more than 130 professors at New York University called on the school to divest last week. Mountain Justice’s sit-in was just the first in what O’Hanlon said is a wave of historic, coordinated, sustained action by divestment campaigns across the nation. The actions will culminate with Harvard Heat Week this month, in which students will stage a week of action calling on Harvard to divest.

Swarthmore’s sit-in, meanwhile, has received national attention in publications such as the Guardian and the Chronicle of Higher Education, and endorsements not only from McKibben but also from United Nations Climate Chief Christiana Figueres ’79. Figueres recently penned an open letter to Chair of the Board Gil Kemp ’72 and Board Investment Committee Chair Chris Niemczewski ’74, calling on the two to lead the Board in divesting. Kemp and Niemczewski have said that the Board will discuss divestment at its May meeting, as well as a full range of sustainable initiatives surrounding renewable energy, investment strategies, and green building standards.


  1. First, thank you to the Phoenix for publishing this article which lays out so well the events surrounding our quest to get Swarthmore to divest from fossil fuels. As an alumna, I have placed my contribution to the College in escrow until such time as the College Board of Managers agrees to a reasonable plan to divest.

    I hope other alums who see this article will join me.

    Deborah Seeley Averill, ’69

  2. I made my pledge to withhold donations today.
    We human beings have to fundamentally, not incrementally, change our ways if the planet is not to heat up so much that it becomes uninhabitable. How are we to transform from a hydrocarbon economy to an environmentally sustainable one, beginning now? What is my part to play? As a former economics major, a professional musician, and a clinical psychologist, I am well acquainted with “business as usual,” with “fiddling while Rome burns,” and with how hard it often is for us to own up to what is no longer working, overcome barriers to change, and develop a new lifestyle. The time to take the next step is now. An ounce of practice is worth a ton of theory. What better institution than Swarthmore to help lead the way? – David B. Sacks ’77

  3. Yet again, more “journalism” from the Phoenix. How much have those 300 alums donated in the past? How much do they contribute yearly? How many alums donate annually total? Why did only 300 of the 1,000 who signed the petition agree to stop donating? These were all questions the Phoenix should have answered, in a journalistic effort to give readers context and understanding. But instead, you once again simply did some sloppy propagandizing in the guise of journalistic coverage. Shame on you.

  4. Thank you to Fran Putnam and others using your resources to have an impact! Thanks as well as to the Phoenix for your coverage of what individuals are doing. The critic from the class of ’13 does raise some interesting questions about the overall impact of folks’ divestment-related pledges. Perhaps some of those questions can be addresses in a follow up story.

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