Citing Troubling Conflict of Interest on Divestment, Dozens of Swarthmore College Students, Alumni Escalate at Board Member’s Office

Students with Swarthmore Mountain Justice take escalated action off-campus to highlight the urgency of action on the climate crisis

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PHILADELPHIA, PA — On Wednesday afternoon, dozens of students and alumni gathered in ONE Liberty Place to demand that Board member Rhonda Cohen ‘76 recuse herself from future conversations on fossil fuel divestment due to her significant personal and financial ties to the fossil fuel industry.  Students and alumni conducted a mock private investigation of the building, which is home to Glenmede Trust, where Cohen sits on the Board of Directors.  

This action follows Swarthmore Mountain Justice’s reveal in late January that a number of members on the College’s Board of Managers hold significant ties to the fossil fuel industry* that preclude them from remaining fair and impartial on the issue of divestment.  Following these members’ failure to recuse themselves or openly acknowledge their conflicts of interest, Mountain Justice saw no choice but to take further escalated action.  

“Just as the power of the fossil fuel industry has impeded meaningful climate change action at the highest levels of our government, Board members’ personal and financial ties to the fossil fuel industry are holding back our college from taking the necessary action to address the urgency of the climate crisis,” said Shana Herman, a freshman and divestment organizer with Swarthmore Mountain Justice.  “It is important that we align our investments with our College’s values as an institution deeply influenced by the Quaker tradition of social justice.”

Swarthmore Mountain Justice’s campaign has been active for over five years and was one of the first of a growing movement.  On more than 400 campuses across the country, students and faculty have organized to demand that their endowments divest from fossil fuels.  To date, over 500 institutions around the world representing over $3.4 trillion in assets under management have committed to some level of fossil fuel divestment.

At Swarthmore, the divestment campaign is growing too.  More than 50% of the student body and 1100 alumni have signed a petition for divestment.  This April, Mountain Justice joins dozens of other campaigns across the country in taking action to demand that institutions of higher learning stand on the right side of history and choose our futures over their ties to this destructive and outdated industry.  

“Climate change is not an issue we have a choice to ignore.  We are serious about making sure that our Board’s decision on divestment is made without conflicts of interest,” explains Sophia Zaia, a sophomore and campaign organizer.  “We are not going away until our Board makes transparent decisions that will ensure a just and sustainable future for our generation.”

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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.

NOTES:

* In addition to sitting on Swarthmore’s Board of Managers, Rhonda Cohen is on Glenmede Trust’s Board of Directors.  Glenmede’s third largest holding is its $219 million investment in ExxonMobil, who has been in the news most recently following the exposure of its extensive involvement in covering up the connection between fossil fuels and global warming as well as actively funding climate change denial.  

As a Board Member Emeritus and former chair of Swarthmore’s investments committee, Samuel Hayes III has considerable influence on the Board’s investment decisions.  Hayes also 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.

Investment Committee Member Harold Kalkstein was formerly a manager of the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) 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 its advocacy.

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