Swarthmore College Continues Investments in Fossil Fuels Despite 32-Day Sit-In and Faculty Resolution

Despite a mandate from the Swarthmore Community, today the Board of Managers chose to stand on the wrong side of history and announced it would continue to invest in fossil fuels.

With over two hundred other colleges, foundations, religious institutions, and pension funds including the University of Dayton and Sweden’s $37 billion AP2 Pension Fund, choosing to divest, the message is clear: the fossil fuel industry’s basic business model is incompatible with a stable climate and has no place in a sustainable future. The Swarthmore community has spoken: over 2,000 Swarthmore faculty, students, and alumni, including UN climate chief Christiana Figueres ‘79, have called for fossil fuel divestment. But today, our Board of Managers chose to reconfirm its commitment to an industry that has no place in a sustainable future.

The divestment campaign is one of the largest in the College’s history. More than 60% of the student body and 1100 alumni have signed a petition for divestment. The faculty passed a resolution formally recommending that the Board divest. Over 200 faculty, students, and alumni participated in a 32-day sit-in for fossil fuel divestment that ended in late April — the longest sit-in in the history of the College and the youth climate movement.

The Board says the “Investment Committee manages the endowment to yield the best long term financial results, rather than to pursue other social objectives.” But the Investments Committee, and Chair Chris Niemczewski, have consistently ignored the significant financial risks posed by stranded fossil fuel assets. An unprecedented chorus of financial leaders, ranging from Bank of England Governor Mark Carney to billionaire investor Tom Steyer, are sounding the alarm on the risks of unburnable carbon. Former SEC Commissioner under Ronald Reagan, Bevis Longstreth, argues that the top 200 fossil fuel stocks are “severely overpriced in the market” and thus colleges and universities have “a compelling reason on financial grounds alone to divest these holdings before the inevitable correction occurs” and the carbon bubble pops. UK Energy Secretary Ed Davey warns that fossil fuels could become the “sub-prime assets of the future.” UN Climate Chief, and Swarthmore alumna, Christina Figures has called continued investments in fossil fuels a “breach of fiduciary duty” and directly asked Mr. Kemp and Mr. Niemczewski to divest in a letter this past spring.

Despite the Board’s abdication of its fiduciary duties, this has been a historic spring for the climate movement. Our 32 day sit-in catalyzed a wave of escalation across the nation as students push for their colleges to stand on the right side of history and divest from deadly fossil fuel companies that continually endanger our most vulnerable communities and and threaten the liviability of the planet for our generation. Since our sit-in began, students on 12 other campuses have escalated their campaigns with sit-ins modeled after ours and inspired by the incredible actions we have taken together as a community; Syracuse University the Guardian Media Group, and even Prince Charles have taken action to end their investments in fossil fuels and stand up for a just and stable future.

Swarthmore risks being left behind and remembered in history for its failure to take leadership at this critical moment. This crisis is real, in the here and now. Lives are at stake. Our generation’s future is at stake. When 350.org Pacific Islands Coordinator, Koreti Tiumalu, joined our rally to end the sit-in, she talked about island nations in the Pacific that will be totally underwater within 15 years if global warming continues unchecked. As our government and our Board sit idly by, those islands nations are disappearing, crops are turning to desert, the world’s most marginalized communities are being forced out of existence. By refusing to follow the lead of the Swarthmore College community, the Board of Managers are complicit in the destruction of these communities and of our future.

This has been an incredible year of organizing and we will be back in September stronger than ever. Divestment is too important an issue to abandon and the repercussions of staying invested in fossil fuels are too dire to stop fighting. For our allies on the frontlines and for our generation’s future, we have a responsibility to take louder, bolder escalated action next fall.

We know it is only a matter of time before Swarthmore divests. All that remains to be seen is whether Swarthmore is remembered as a leader, or an institution forced by economic and social necessity to follow along.


The Board decided to create a Green Fund, an alternative investment fund within the endowment that does not invest directly in fossil fuel stocks going forward. Alumni can earmark their future contributions for this fund which we expect to have in place later this year. The entire $1.9 billion endowment is still invested in fossil fuels and this fund still has indirect investments in fossil endowment.

Sign the alumni petition AND pledge to withholding your donations to show the Board the continuing alumni mandate for divestment of the entire endowment from fossil fuels.

With commitment by Board to engage with proposal and faculty resolution of support, MJ ends 32-day sit-in

SIT-IN end meme2From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Posted: Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A 32-day student sit-in at Swarthmore College ended Monday after faculty voted to support the protesters’ demands to divest endowment money out of fossil fuels.

“We are ending after a commitment by the Board of Managers to engage us in the weeks leading up to their decision on divestment on May 1 and 2,” said sophomore Stephen O’Hanlon, an organizer with Swarthmore Mountain Justice, the student group that has pushed for divestment for the last five years. An alumni petition with 1,100 signatures bolstered their demands.

“Swatties,” as Swarthmore students are called, are asking the school’s trustees – known in the college’s Quaker tradition as the Board of Managers – to partially divest the $1.9 billion endowment of oil, gas, coal, and other fossil fuel-related companies in a way that would avoid losses in the portfolio.

Over 100 students, such as O’Hanlon and freshman Sophia Zaia, began the sit-in on March 19, sleeping in Parrish Hall and working in shifts.

“So many people worry that there’s nothing one person can do about climate change. I recycle, I dry-line my clothing, but I still felt disempowered,” Zaia said.

“Big institutional change needs to happen, like our divestment from fossil fuels,” she added.

Swarthmore was the birthplace five years ago of the national divestment movement. But the college was slow to consider the possibility at the trustee level.

Between $200 million and $300 million of Swarthmore’s $1.9 billion endowment is invested in separately managed accounts that can be gradually divested, said Giles Kemp, a 1972 alumnus who chairs the board. Those accounts would be the first to divest under the student proposal.

Since Swarthmore birthed the movement, students at other schools such as Yale and Harvard Universities, and Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges, plus state schools like the University of Colorado, have begun divestment campaigns as well.

Syracuse University recently divested from fossil fuels completely; Stanford University, from coal companies last year. And the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, heir to John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil fortune, last fall said it would no longer invest its $860 million in fossil fuels, the source of the family’s wealth.

Neither Harvard nor Yale has divested and students have been arrested at both schools. By contrast, Swarthmore’s sit-in has been amicable.

A total of 175 students slept and studied in the hallways over a month, with a cooler of donated drinks and cookies nearby. Administrators stepped adroitly around students’ plugged-in cellphones and backpacks full of books and clothes.

“It’s very much a struggle within a family. Swarthmore has a Quaker heritage. It takes social responsibility and ethical intelligence very seriously. Students are living out their education by taking over the building,” said religion professor Mark Wallace.

Swarthmore’s campaign drew a visit from the environmental activist Bill McKibben, who visited the student sit-in on April 8.

McKibben, cofounder of 350.org, wrote an early book on global warming and lends his name to various climate change and divestment protests.

Protests have also begun at Haverford. Students are calling on their board of managers to freeze any new investment in fossil-fuel companies, and to divest within five years from direct ownership and from any commingled funds that include fossil-fuel public equities and corporate bonds.

At Swarthmore, supportive alumni include Avery Rome, a former member of the college’s board.

“It reminds me of the student push to get us out of apartheid-linked companies in South Africa” in the 1980s, she said. “That’s not to say the top deans and Board of Managers aren’t aware. But typically, the big emotional response comes from young people. That pushes the adults over to their side.”

“I’m glad the students are pushing the college. This kind of roiling is typical of the place and good for it as an institution,” Rome added.

Should the board vote down partial divestment, the students will restart the campaign in September, once classes start again.

“We teach the students to be agents of social change. If Swarthmore would divest, it would be the first college in Pennsylvania to do so,” Wallace added.

“If the board does nothing, we’d be prepared to escalate in the fall,” O’Hanlon said.

Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/education/20150421_Swarthmore_sit-in_ends_with_fossil-fuel_divestment_support.html#6HupkAxyMRFug85K.99

Alumni Deliver 360 pledges not to donate until the Board divests & 1083 petition signatures


17 April 2015

Contact: Stephen O’Hanlon, (610) 955-7398, sohanlon22@gmail.com, Swarthmore Mountain Justice


SWARTHMORE, PA — Yesterday evening morning, Swarthmore Alumni delivered 360 pledges to withhold donations until the Board commits to fossil fuel divestment, along with 1083 petition signatures and over a hundred letters calling for divestment to the alumni office. Dozens of alumni from across the country also sent letters to Investments Committee Chair Chris Niemczewski and Board Chair Gil Kemp calling for action on divestment at the May Board meeting.

“We urge the Board to reaffirm the college’s highest purposes and ideals, and in the light of the humanitarian disaster of climate change, that surely requires divestment,” said Peter Meyer, a Swarthmore alumnus from the class of 1965 who delivered the letter.

“This will be the first time in 45 years that I have not made my annual donation to the College, so this was not a decision taken lightly,” said Fran Putnam, a Swarthmore alumna from the class of 1969 on her decision not to donate until the Board commits to divestment.

The sit-in is attracting international attention. Swarthmore alumna, and head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Christiana Figueres publicly endorsed the sit-in. Dean Baker, a Swarthmore alumnus and co-founder of the Center for Economic and Policy Research also endorsed the campaign Thursday. Over 6,000 people supporters from around the country have called on the the Board to reopen the dialogue on divestment.

This delivery came as Swarthmore Mountain Justice’s sit-in for fossil fuel divestment on the campus that birthed the now global divestment campaign entered its fifth week, making it the longest ever sit-in for fossil fuel divestment. Over 200 have now participated in the sit-in. Since the Swarthmore sit-in began, students around the country have begun sit-ins at Harvard, Tulane, Yale, University of Mary Washington, Bowdoin, UC Berkeley, and CU Boulder.

“This marks a turning point for the climate justice movement because it is the first time students across the country are taking coordinated action for divestment,” said Sara Blazevic, a current senior and sit-in organizer who has helped coordinate the national escalation. “It shows that the movement has found its legs and is more committed and powerful than ever.”

As a result of the sit-in, the Board of Managers announced that they will put fossil fuel divestment on the agenda at the May board meeting. “While this is a major victory for our campaign, we are continuing to sit-in to call for the Board to reopen dialogue with us because we need to ensure that divestment will be seriously considered in May, and that the Board is committed to seizing the historic opportunity that we have before us,” said Erika Weiskopf, a sophomore and sit-in organizer.

Swarthmore Mountain Justice is one of the largest campaigns in the College’s history: 1,200 faculty and alumni, along with 970 students (61% of the student body) have called on the College’s Board of Managers to divest from fossil fuels. In consultation with the VP of Finance, Swarthmore Mountain Justice prepared a proposal tailored specifically to our endowment structure for how Swarthmore can fully divest by 2020, the same year that global emissions must peak in order to avoid catastrophic climate change. Despite this, the board rejected this historic opportunity to show international leadership on climate.

Recently, Swarthmore’s Board of Managers hired investments expert Gregory Kats to advise on sustainability initiatives. Mr. Kats responded with a public call for fossil fuel divestment. The Board should take the recommendation of their own advisor.


Swarthmore Mountain Justice (swatmj.org) is a student group at Swarthmore College and founded the first fossil fuel divestment campaign. There are now over 500 fossil fuel divestment campaigns worldwide.  Swarthmore Mountain Justice is calling on the Swarthmore College Board of Managers to divest from fossil fuels and reinvest in just and sustainable solutions to the climate crisis.

Alumni Deliver Petition and Pledge to Alumni Office

Alumni Deliver Petition and Pledge to Alumni Office

350 Swarthmore Alumni Pledge not to donate until the Board commits to fossil fuel divest

Add your name to the pledge and read the Swarthmore Phoenix’s coverage of the announcement below.

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.

5,400 signatures in solidarity with Mountain Justice sit-in

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8 days ago, 44 students, faculty, and alumni began a sit-in at the College’s Finance and Investments office to call on Investments Committee Chair Chris Niemczewski and Board Chair Gil Kemp to reopen dialogue and collaborate with Mountain Justice to move forward on divestment. Since then over 100 students, faculty, and alumni have joined the sit-in.

As one of the nation’s most prestigious colleges, and one with a strong tradition of civic responsibility and leadership for the common good, we the world looks to us for leadership on the pressing social issues of our time. As the college where the divestment movement began (and escalation), Swarthmore’s fossil fuel investments are in the international spotlight. By investing in the fossil fuel industry, Swarthmore is saying that the fossil fuel industry’s business plan to burn over five times as much carbon as is reasonably safe to burn is compatible with our institutional values of social responsibility, truth, and leadership for the common good. As the world prepares to draft the most critical climate agreement ever, this is the wrong message being sent at the worst time.

Yet the Swarthmore community recognizes that it doesn’t have to be this way. A majority of the student body, nearly half the faculty and over 1100 alumni, including UN Climate Chief Christiana Figueres, have called on Swarthmore align our investments with our values. Since our sit-in began 5,438 people from around the country have signed onto a letter of solidarity with our campaign and asking Swarthmore to take vital leadership on climate.

We are pleased to know that divestment is on the agenda at the May Board meeting, however that is no guarantee that this will result in the action the Swarthmore community deserves. The decision will be made behind closed doors by thirty-nine board members. The several thousand Swarthmore community members who have voiced support for divestment will not be at the table during the May Board meeting. We are continuing our sit-in to call on the Board to reopen dialogue with us because we need to ensure that divestment will be seriously considered in May, and that the Board is committed to seizing the historic opportunity that we have before us.

We are here to ask that President Hungerford urge Mr. Niemczewski and Mr. Kemp to work with the Mountain Justice to discuss commitments for divestment ahead of the May Board meeting in order to ensure that the May meeting is productive and produces results in line with the urgency of this crisis.

UN Climate Chief and Swarthmore alumna Christiana Figueres ’79 Supports Sit-in

UNFCCC Executive Secretary and Swarthmore alumna Christiana Figueres ’79 endorses our sit-in, rebukes Chris Niemczewski’s (Chair of the Board’s Investments Committee) misleading report, and calls on Gil Kemp to move forward with divestment.

BREAKING: 37 Swarthmore Students and 6 Alumni Begin Sit-in in Finance and Investments Office for Divestment

Swarthmore_Divestment_SitInEarly this morning, Swarthmore Mountain Justice launched an extended sit-in for fossil fuel divestment on the campus that birthed the now global divestment campaign, kicking off a historic spring of escalating nonviolent action throughout the student divestment movement. The 37 students and 6 alumni are asking the Swarthmore Board Investment Committee Chair Chris Niemczewski and Board Chair Gil Kemp to return to the negotiating table and agree to end the College’s investments in a rogue industry that violates Swarthmore’s Quaker values and recklessly imperils a just and sustainable future for our generation.

Our goal is to engage Mr. Kemp and Mr. Niemczewski in a productive dialogue on how to move forward on fossil fuel divestment. But to ensure that this dialogue is productive, Mr. Kemp and Mr. Niemczewski must reckon with the increasingly deadly impacts of the climate crisis on our world’s most marginalized communities, as well as the possibility of an uninhabitable future for our generation. Our action today reflects the urgency of this crisis.

Our campaign is one of many campaigns that will be taking nonviolent direct action for divestment this spring. This marks a turning point in the fossil fuel divestment movement, as students are, for the first time ever, taking escalated action on their own campuses and targeting the decision-makers at their own schools. Our movement calls on institutions to divest from the 200 coal, oil, and gas companies most responsible for the climate crisis, and reinvest in community-led solutions at the frontlines of poverty and pollution.More than any other climate campaign before it, the fossil fuel divestment movement has eroded the power of the fossil fuel industry and shifted the conversation on climate. The fossil fuel industry’s recent attacks on the divestment movement are a testament to its success.

We are calling on our college – the very institution tasked with preparing us for the future – to stand with us in ensuring a just and stable future. The Swarthmore community recognizes this opportunity to align our investments with our values. Over 1,100 faculty and alumni, along with 970 students (61% of the student body), have signed a petition calling on the College’s Board of Managers to divest from fossil fuels. Despite this, the Board has rejected this historic opportunity to show international leadership on climate. We cannot stand idly by as Mr. Niemczewski and Board Chair Gil Kemp continue to prevent the Board of Managers from responding to the mandate from the Swarthmore community to align our investments with our values.

Climate change is already an unprecedented crisis that affects us all, but we know that it will be low-income communities and communities of color that will endure the worst of our inaction. When we extract and burn fossil fuels, low-income communities and communities of color around the world are the first to be burdened with poison and pollution, and when the tides rise and the storm comes, those same communities are the last to be evacuated and rebuilt. Humanity is running out of time for the world to change course and prevent catastrophic climate change. According to UN’s latest climate report, if we are to have a chance of avoiding ‘runaway’ global warming of over 2 degrees Celsius, global emissions must peak within 5 years. This means the coming months are pivotal as world leaders try one more time this fall to negotiate an international climate treaty in line with the climate science.

Right now, the Swarthmore Board is choosing to be a part of the problem. As a small liberal arts college, our $1.8 billion endowment is one of our most powerful political tools. By investing in this industry, Swarthmore is saying that the fossil fuel industry’s business plan to burn over five times as much carbon as is safe to burn is compatible with our institutional values of social responsibility, truth, and leadership for the common good. As the world prepares to draft the most critical climate agreement ever, this is the wrong message being sent at the worst time.

When the Board hired investments expert Greg Kats to advise on sustainability initiatives, Mr. Kats responded with a public call for fossil fuel divestment. The Board should take the recommendation of their own advisor. The conflict between Swarthmore’s values and the catastrophic impacts of its investment has become untenable, and our action further highlights this discrepancy. We fully expect the Board to move forward on fossil fuel divestment.

The coming months are critical for the future livability of this planet. Chris Niemczewski and the Board of Managers have a choice: to make history or be vilified with it. To invest in a rogue industry or join us in declaring the end to the fossil fuel era. To stand with us as our generation demands a stable future, or to side with an industry attempting to extract every last bit of profit from the earth. As the birthplace of the fossil fuel divestment movement, the world is watching us. Whose side are you on, Swarthmore?