Student Group Presents Case for Divestment to Trustees
Coming on the heels of a major panel and discussion about divestment over J-term and significant student support for the movement, seven students, (Nathan Arnosti ’13, Craig Thompson ’13.5, Jeannie Bartlett ’15, Teddy Smyth ’15, Laura Berry ’16, Fernando Sandoval Jimenez ’15, and Kristina Johansson ’14), had the opportunity to present the case for divestment to the Board of Trustees at their February meeting this weekend. I followed up with the students, eager to learn more about their presentation and the Trustee reaction.
Middblog: Who exactly were you presenting the proposal to–the full Trustees group or the Investment Committee?
Arnosti: We presented in front of the full Board of Trustees. Though it was technically an optional meeting, the vast majority were present and the room was packed. Ron Liebowitz, Patrick Norton, and other administrators were there as well.
Middblog: Would you mind giving Middblog a brief summary of the proposal you brought before the Trustees?
Thompson: We began by reviewing the negative externalities created by the fossil fuel and weapons manufacturing industries to demonstrate why we felt divestment would improve the social responsibility of Middlebury’s endowment. Second, we presented an array of studies that rebutted the conventional wisdom that there exists an economically significant cost of divestment. We closed by reminding the Board that becoming the first of our peer institutions to divest is a significant opportunity to affirm Middlebury’s role as a social and environmental leader.
Arnosti: We’ll be publishing an Op-Ed in this week’s Campus that will describe our presentation in greater detail.
Middblog: What is the timeline you are proposing for divestment and for these actions?
Arnosti: At the end of our presentation, we proposed that the Trustees announce their decision to divest from the fossil fuel industry and weapons manufacturers by March 15th. At this time, we asked that the college make public its strategy for divestment: either alongside all institutions that invest their endowments through Investure, alongside some of these institutions within Investure, or by removing their funds from Investure entirely and forming a new consortium with schools interested in a fossil fuels- and weapons-free portfolio.
Bartlett: The reason we are asking for a March 15 commitment, rather than one from the May Board meeting, is threefold: First, these are urgent issues that deserve an immediate response. Second, a response in mid-March gives us time to react. If we get a public commitment, that will add huge momentum to the national movement this spring. If we don’t, we’ll all still be on campus to keep the pressure on. Finally, other schools are already divesting. If Middlebury waits until May, we may not be able to claim being the first of our peer institutions to divest.
Smyth: There will be a student rally in solidarity with the national movement and Investure schools on March 4th, and we would love for an announcement to accompany that date – but that’s just encouragement.
Smyth: In terms of a timeline going forward, we ask that the College freezes any new investments in these industries, and completes its divestment process by 2016, corresponding with our completed goal of Carbon Neutrality.
Middblog: I like that idea- 2016. Any idea when you will be hearing back, positively or negatively, from the Board?
Arnosti: Not yet. We know there are differing opinions on the Board regarding divestment, and so they’ll take some time to discuss. We’re looking forward to hearing their opinions over the upcoming weeks. The ACSRI will also continue to meet regularly with Patrick Norton, who should be able to give us some insight on the Trustees’ decision-making process.
Bartlett: Certainly I expect to hear something by March 15.
Middblog: Interesting. As students, especially students at Middlebury, it is easy to get stuck inside the idyllic bubble that is our campus. What do you think the likelihood is that this proposal will be adopted? Any betting odds?
Arnosti: It’s hard to say. We believe we’ve made a compelling case that divestment aligns with our core values as an institution, removes our investments from financially risky industries, doesn’t harm the long-term viability of our endowment, re-establishes Middlebury as an intellectual leader among colleges, is legal, and, importantly, will help spark social and political change.
Bartlett: I am confident that Middlebury will continue to engage in a process of divestment and socially responsible investment, so the question is whether this will happen on a timeline that has national impact. Our administration has already shown receptiveness and engagement on divestment. We know that we have the support of a significant number of trustees, administrators and faculty, not to mention a supermajority of student support. We, and they, also know that schools and social leaders across the country are looking to Middlebury for leadership.
Smyth: We are confident the trustees will continue to act in the best interest of the school and be the leaders we’ve grown to expect.
Thanks! I’m hoping for good news.