Board members obligated to recuse themselves

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Today, Swarthmore Mountain Justice called on Board members Rhonda Cohen ’76, Samuel Hayes III ’57, and Harold Kalkstein ’78, to recuse themselves from future conversations on fossil fuel divestment. The Board’s decision not to divest last May was compromised by conflicts of interest among these three Board members who have considerable personal and financial ties to the fossil fuel industry.

Five years after students at Swarthmore College launched the first fossil fuel divestment campaign in the country, the debate on divestment is over. The overwhelming support on campus for fossil fuel divestment from students, faculty, and alumni, as well as the rousing call for divestment from the international community, has proven that the only barrier to divestment is the Board’s own refusal to act in line with climate science. While Swarthmore claims to invest in our futures, their decision not to divest is a direct threat to our continued survival on this planet. Rising seas threaten the lives of entire nations every day, yet the Board has refused to act.

Over 1,100 faculty and alumni voiced their support for divestment last year, along with 970 students (61% of the student body). The faculty passed a resolution and wrote a 30-page white paper asking the board to divest. It is clear that the campus mandate is in favor of divestment, and equally clear that the board chose to ignore the voices of students, faculty, and alumni as well as the role that Swarthmore College plays in the global discourse on fossil fuels. Just as the power of fossil fuel interests have stifled meaningful action on climate change nationally, ties to the fossil fuel industry from members of our own Board are holding back meaningful climate action here at Swarthmore.

The financial ties the following Board members have to the fossil fuel industry compromise the discussion of divestment at Swarthmore, and Mountain Justice asks that they recuse themselves from future discussions on divestment. The Board’s conflict of interest policy is published online, and states that any “Manager having a duality or possible financial conflict of interest on any matter should not use his or her personal influence in the matter and, if a vote were to be taken, should not vote thereon nor be counted even in determining the quorum for the meeting.”

Vice Chair of the Board of Managers Rhonda Cohen also serves on the board of directors at the Glenmede Trust. The Glenmede Trust’s third-largest holding is its $219 million invested in ExxonMobil; in addition, it has $961.6 million (7% of its $13.9 billion in assets) invested in energy. These economic ties clearly comprise Ms. Cohen’s ability to make objective decisions regarding Swarthmore’s divestment from fossil fuel companies.

Board Member Emeritus Samuel Hayes II has a long-standing relationship with the fossil fuel industry, having served 20 years on the boards of the Eaton Vance family of mutual funds. Eaton Vance’s second-largest holding is its $845 million dollar stake in ExxonMobil. Eaton Vance has $2.6 billion invested in dirty energy, or eight percent of its $32.7 billion total holdings. The amount Eaton Vance has invested in energy is almost equal to the entirety of Swarthmore’s endowment; it is unthinkable that this sum would bear no influence on Mr. Hayes’ decisions regarding divestment at Swarthmore. As a Board Member Emeritus and former chair of Swarthmore’s investments committee, Mr. Hayes has considerable influence on the Board’s investment decisions, yet his views on divestment are conflicted by connections to the fossil fuel industry.

Investment Committee Member Harold Kalkstein was formerly a manager of the Boston Consulting Group and founded its global energy practice. The BCG recently published a report advising the legalization of Arctic oil drilling and a repeal of the ban on crude oil exports. The BCG is also a paid advocate for oil companies. In 2012, the BCG was one of the highest-paid advocates for the Western States Petroleum Association, earning $648,875 that year for their advocacy. It is unfathomable that a person with such direct and considerate ties to the fossil fuel industry could make objective decisions regarding fossil fuel divestment at Swarthmore College.

With these clear conflicts of interest in mind, we demand that Harold Kalkstein, Rhonda Cohen and Samuel Hayes III recuse themselves from future discussions of fossil fuel divestment. The gravity and urgency of combating climate change only accelerates with time. Five million people die every year because of the fossil fuel economy and climate change. From refineries in communities of color to rising sea levels impacting small island nations, those least responsible for the climate crisis—­­the poor, people of color, and communities throughout the global south—­­are facing the worst impacts as a result of our fossil fuel dependency.

We cannot sit by silently and allow conflicts of interest held on the part of specific Board members to cloud Swarthmore’s decision on an issue as imperative as fossil fuel divestment. We cannot allow Swarthmore to continue to support the companies that are destroying entire communities while championing struggles for social justice in its classrooms.

This information was compiled by Little Sis, a research tool run by the Public Accountability Initiative, a “non-profit, public interest research organization investigating power.”

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