Bill McKibben brought his gentle charisma to Mead Chapel tonight on the final stop of his “Do the Math” tour to divest from fossil fuel companies. For McKibben, a Schumann Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Middlebury College and resident of Ripton, Vt., this concluding talk was especially meaningful. On multiple occasions he called on Middlebury to take the lead on the divestment campaign.
Posts tagged ‘environment’
(Bring Your Own water Bottle)
If you’re planning a road trip to UVM any time soon, make sure to remember your nalgene! As of Monday, UVM became one of 23 college campuses and the first public university to ban the sale of water bottles. In an effort to reduce their carbon footprint, the campus has turned all of their water fountains into bottle filling stations (you’ve probably noticed similar ones around Middlebury College).
Colleges aren’t the only ones participating in this movement. This month, Concord, Mass. became the first US city to prohibit the sale of individual water bottles in stores, with hope that other towns will soon do the same.
After reading President Liebowitz’s email last night, we at MiddBlog still had a few questions about what it all meant. So we decided to ask some of the people who have been in the trenches with the administration and the trustees trying to move divestment forward. Here is our email interview with members of the Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing (ACSRI) Ben Chute ’13.5 and Nathan Arnosti ’13.
MiddBlog: Ron got kind of sassy there with the little note on the email forwarded to students (“I guess I need to get permission”), didn’t he?
Ben Chute ’13.5: I hadn’t noticed, but now that you mention it, it’s kind of funny.
MB: Can you guys provide any insight into how and why Ron decided to come out with some statistics on our endowment at this point in time?
BC: I take him at his word when he says he trusts the Middlebury College community to discuss the issue thoughtfully and seriously. The ethical investment of our endowment is a complex issue, and bringing Middlebury students into the discussion not only gives them a fantastic opportunity for experiential learning, but also includes the voice of a major stakeholder in the operation of the this college.
I think this conversation beginning with statistics is a signal of where it is headed. This issue is equally grounded in principle and practicality, and the statistics will help us guide the discussion beyond simply the principles of divestment into a more complicated discussion of how we would implement it.
MB: He says, “one of its members attends Investment Committee meetings of the Board of Trustees.” I am assuming that’s you Ben? Can you talk about what that entails, how much influence you have, and if it had anything directly or indirectly to do with Ron’s email.
BC: Yes I’m the Student Liaison to the Investment Committee of the Board of Trustees(!). I had my first meeting with the IC last October, when I met with Trustees and Investure in Old Chapel. I’m optimistic that this position will be an important one; simply being able to be in the room and experience how everything works is instructive towards gearing SRI proposals for better reception by the Trustees, but being able to speak for 5 minutes at the end of each meeting into the foreseeable future is the most exciting attribute of the position. Opening up a dialogue between the Trustees and students has already proved beneficial, and I am confident that more good things will come of it.
MB: 3% of our endowment invested in fossil fuels, and less than 1% in weapons industries doesn’t sound like a lot to me. Is it less than you guys expected too? On the other hand, does that mean it will be more feasible to divest such a small part of our endowment? Or is it actually not that small?
Nathan Arnosti ’13: I was also pleased to see that, according to Investure’s estimates, only 3.6% of Middlebury’s endowment is directly invested in fossil fuels, and .6% is directly invested in defense and arms manufacturing. These figures, certainly at the low end of SRI’s estimates, suggest that Middlebury’s endowment is not solely reliant on the fossil fuel industry for financial returns. Though our investments are spread across many vehicles – thus complicating the picture significantly – divestment from fossil fuels is more feasible when it comprises 3.6% of our portfolio than it would be with a larger percentage of these investments.
That said, 3.6% is not trivial: with a $900 million endowment, that equates to around $32 million of investments in fossil fuels.
MB: Can you translate all the jargon at the end of his email into plain English? Where exactly do these statistics come from and what do they reflect? Are they showing the whole picture in your opinion?
NA: To clarify the specifics of Investure’s reporting, Investure states that they have used “available information” from their many investments, meaning that these figures are approximated. It would be helpful to know what percentage of Investure’s investments were included in this approximation, as that would better indicate the potential margin of error.
Also, it is important to note that these figures refer only to direct investments in fossil fuels and defense manufacturing. Thus, while Exxon Mobile might count as part of the 3.6%, a company that manufactures machinery for offshore oil rigs might not. Where we, as a community, draw the line with these industries is a crucial topic of discussion.
MB: Overall are how do you feel about this development? Will this be impact your strategies going forward?
NA: I was very excited to hear last week that President Liebowitz was planning to release information regarding our endowment’s investments in fossil fuels and defense and arms manufacturing. This is an excellent step forward towards a responsibly-invested endowment.
President Liebowitz Announces Endowment Statistics and Addresses Possibility of Divestment in All-School Email
Middlebury President Ron Liebowitz sent out an all-school email today revealing that approximately 3% of the school’s $900 million endowment is invested in fossil fuels and approximately 0.6% is invested in defense and arms manufacturing. He also announced plans for panel discussions about divestment that would include “representatives from the firm that manages our endowment (Investure), veteran investment managers, and our own Scholar-in-Residence, Bill McKibben.”
This email comes on the heals of widespread student engagement on campus the past year concerning the ethics of our endowment, including several student groups calling for Middlebury to take leadership in divestment, controversial but discussion-provoking activism, and a nation-wide campaign led by Scholar-in-Residence Bill McKibben to encourage universities and colleges to divest from fossil fuel industries.
Liebowitz’s acknowledgment of the possibility of divestment was encouraging to those hoping for divestment, but far from definitive. He said in the email:
“The management of Middlebury’s endowment is complex and has evolved over time… the College is very limited in either selecting or deleting any particular investment within its overall portfolio. Despite such limitations, the Investment Committee, the Administration, and Investure have been working with ACSRI to ensure that socially responsible investing is discussed and reviewed as a regular and ongoing part of the investment process…At the same time, the primary fiduciary responsibility of our investment committee is to maximize its investment returns to support vital programs including financial aid and staff and faculty compensation, while managing risk…It is vitally important to understand both the risks and rewards of one’s investment decisions as we are the stewards not only of the endowment for the current generation of Middlebury students, faculty, and staff, but for future generations as well.”
McKibben responded to Liebowitz’s email through 350.org saying, ““President Liebowitz used just the right tone and took precisely the right step. It won’t be easy to divest, but I have no doubt that Middlebury–home of the first environmental studies dept in the nation–will do the right thing in the right way. It makes me proud to be a Panther.”
MiddBlog will be providing more information about the significance of this email as we get it.
Read his whole email after the jump: Read more
(Luke Whelan and Olivia Noble contributed to this post)
Yesterday afternoon, the Middlebury Community Judicial Board (CJB) heard the case of the five students who call themselves the Dalai Lama Welcoming Committee, who are responsible for sending out the satirical (or fraudulent, according to some) press release and subsequent “coming clean” letter in October. After an intense six hours of statements, questioning, witness testimony and character references, then many more hours deliberating after the hearing, the CJB came out with a verdict late last night. They found the students guilty of violating the Community Standard of communicating with honesty and integrity in the College Handbook, and the “ethical and law-abiding behavior” clause in the Library and Information Services (LIS) policy. However, their sentence is a reprimand-- not official college discipline. According to the DLWC website, “[the CJB] said this is mostly due to respect for individuals who might have been offended by our actions or to whom our actions were a nuisance.” Furthermore, the CJB did not find the five students guilty of violating the “respect for others” clause in LIS policy or for sending an unauthorized all-student email.