Administration threatens students with probation and fines for Feb sit-in

At around 8:00pm last Friday, four members of Mountain Justice received emails from the Dean’s Office threatening fines and academic probation for their participation in the February 24th sit-in at the Finance and Investments Office in Parrish Hall. It is not yet clear why these four particular students were selected.

The sit-in called on the Board to engage in dialogue on the student divestment referendum, which students passed by a landslide, and was a partial success, with the Board placing divestment on the agenda for the first time in over a year.

We find it shocking and disturbing that the administration would rather threaten students with fines and academic probation than meet and discuss the issue. The Board’s continuing refusal to engage on this issue only further shows that they know their blanket rejection of any divestment is indefensible. To refuse to engage simply because divestment would use the endowment for a social purpose goes against everything Swarthmore stands for.

These students took action as part a long tradition on this campus of peaceful acts of conscience. They were calling on the Board of Managers to act in line with our institution’s values of social responsibility and leadership for the common good. The fossil fuel industry threatens millions of lives and our collective future — with the Trump administration actively supporting this industry, it is unconscionable that Swarthmore continue to support and invest in fossil fuels.

The students and faculty at the sit-in made every effort to be courteous and thoughtful to Mr. Amstutz and Public Safety, even assisting Mr. Amstutz with his office tasks. We urge President Smith and Dean Miller to affirm our community’s right to peaceful protest, and ask you to add your name to this petition to do the same:

Exciting Update: Progress and Next Steps on the Sit-in

EXCITING UPDATE: We have gotten some, but certainly not all of what we wanted. President Smith and Board Member David Singleton stopped by and agreed that divestment would be a topic of conversation at the Board meetings tonight and tomorrow.

This comes just a day after they said the conversation was totally closed. It shows that when we take bold action, we get results.

We will keep stepping up the pressure throughout this weekend’s meeting and until the Board commits to engage seriously with the referendum proposal on its merits instead of flat out rejecting it because it would be taking social concerns into consideration when investing.

This attitude goes against everything that Swarthmore stands for and would have prevented us from divesting from apartheid, a decision we are proud our institution made. We want Swarthmore to take similar moral leadership for climate justice.

Join us today at 3pm outside the Scheurer Room for an emergency rally to keep up the pressure and demand action on this important issue.

BREAKING: Students stage sit-in to demand the Board seriously consider the student referendum on divestment

Just minutes ago, on the first day of the Swarthmore Board of Managers quarterly meeting, 20 Swarthmore students began a sit-in at the office of Chief Investment Officer Mark Amstutz to demand that he and the Board stop using their blanket rejection of any proposal for fossil fuel divestment. They rejected a student referendum that passed by a landslide not for political or financial reasons, but solely because they believe we should never take any social concerns into consideration when investing our endowment.

We are asking that all Swarthmore students, faculty, and staff who think the Board should fairly consider the divestment referendum to join us in Mark Amstutz’s office on the second floor of Parrish (Parrish 229 West).

We are here to ask Mark Amstutz, Greg Brown, Val Smith, and the Board: do you truly stand behind this policy? While we understand that some restraint around using the endowment for social purposes is important, these same standards would have prevented us from divesting from the apartheid regime in South Africa, a decision that we hope the entire Swarthmore community is glad the Board made.

The fossil fuel industry poisons marginalized communities and threatens the future of every student, just so they can extract the last bit of profit from their reserves. We want to be able to look back years from now and know that we as students and as an institution took powerful action to stand for climate justice as the fossil fuel industry and Trump administration joined together to prioritize profit over science, communities, and our future.

We want to look back and know that Swarthmore added its voice to an unprecedented coalition of institutions that have divested from fossil fuels, ranging from leading universities like Stanford and Yale, to the Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund and the city of Washington D.C., and even including the Rockefeller Family Fund, which was built off the family’s oil fortunes. Already, funds totaling over $5 trillion have been divested from fossil fuels.

Moreover, the Board is also are ignoring a strengthening financial case for fossil fuel divestment. For instance, Yale University partially divested last spring, citing financial risk as the primary reason for divesting. A growing chorus of financial and political leaders, including former Shell Chairman, Mark Moody-Stuart, billionaire investor Tom Steyer, former Vice President Al Gore, and UN Climate Chief Christiana Figueres ‘79, have advocated for divestment as a sound financial decision. Even investment bank HSBC, in a report to investors, advised divestment, warning that investors who stay in fossil fuels “may one day be seen to be late movers, on ‘the wrong side of history.’” Even the Board’s own investment expert has endorsed divestment for financial reasons.

This is not the first time that students and faculty have gotten a “no” from the Board. The anti-apartheid divestment campaign spanned eleven long years: eleven years of being ignored, sidestepped, and rejected by the Board. Despite the Board rejecting divestment four times, students and faculty persisted, taking increasingly escalated action, and in 1989 the Board committed to a plan to divest from apartheid in South Africa.
Due to student and faculty efforts, the Board ultimately stood on the right side of history. Now, as the Trump administration partners with the fossil fuel industry to push disastrous climate policies that threaten millions of people and our collective futures, we need our Board to take a stand for justice once again. And we are confident that if we stand together as a community, we will win.

Swarthmore Should Follow Yale’s Lead, Divest to Protect Our Endowment From Fossil Fuels


On April 12th, Yale’s Chief Investment Officer David Swensen announced the school’s decision to partially divest its endowment from fossil fuels. Swensen cited not ethical reasons, but financial prudence, as the top motivator behind the decision. Yale’s divestment came after Swensen asked their investment managers to consider the potential risks that investments in coal and oil pose to their endowment. One of the firm’s founders said they agreed climate change and carbon pricing were “unknowable risks and fossil fuel producers with significant carbon footprints were declining businesses, a profile the firm preferred to avoid.” Yale’s divestment is only the latest example of college and university endowments divesting in exactly the way Swarthmore’s Board of Managers claims is impossible.

Yale’s decision to withdraw $10 million of their remaining investments in the fossil fuel industry came after months of conversation with Yale’s external investment managers about the risks of continuing to invest in coal and oil. Swensen noted that “a few managers held positions we felt were inconsistent with our principles. Thermal coal miners and oil sands producers are two of the obvious industries that would suffer if regulation imposed the social cost of the carbon emissions on producers.” Two of Yale’s external managers maintained investments in industries incompatible with Yale’s principles, but Swensen prompted both managers to sell their holdings in oil and coal.

Yale saw a 11.5 percent return on their endowment in fiscal year 2015. Yale’s endowment is highly regarded as one of the best performing college endowments in the country. That Yale’s Chief Investment Officer has ruled divesting from fossil fuels financially prudent should not be taken lightly by Swarthmore, and makes clear that there is a strong financial case for divestment on financial grounds as well as moral political ones.

Swensen said that Yale’s endowment currently maintains only minor exposure to the oil and coal industries. But as the Yale case exemplifies, divestment is a process, not a leap that is taken overnight. Swarthmore could easily start taking small steps like asking our managers to move investments away from risky fossil fuels and identifying managers with funds in line with our financial and moral principles. This could begin the process of eliminating the financial risk posed by fossil fuel investments and taking the crucial step of revoking our support from an industry that is incompatible with a sustainable future.

This month, a slew of divestment victories means Swarthmore stands increasingly alone in refusing the call to divest. This past Monday, the University of Ottawa also joined the ranks of institutions committing to divest from fossil fuels. On April 12th and 13th, a total of 43 students were arrested for sitting in for divestment at University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Harvard, prompting UMass President Marty Meehan to state, “I want to make UMass the first public university in the country to divest our direct holdings from all fossil fuel companies.” On April 15th, one year after students were arrested for taking nonviolent direct action for divestment, the University of Mary Washington passed a motion to maintain a portfolio that is 98% divested from the largest 200 fossil fuel companies. Students have since begun sit-ins and taken direct action at Columbia, Vassar, NYU, Northern Arizona University, University of Montana, and James Madison University.

In order to successfully avert runaway warming and to meet the goals laid out at the Paris Climate talks, more than 84% of current fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground. This means there is a “carbon bubble,” and that there will be a severe devaluation of fossil fuel stocks as we make the necessary transition away from fossil fuels. We are already witnessing this effect. Peabody Coal, the world’s largest private sector coal company, filed for bankruptcy early this month citing an “unprecedented industry downturn.” If carbon assets are not stranded in the very near future, then the future holds approximately 4.5 degrees of warming or more, according to the IPCC. Not only will this mean a devastating loss of human life, but it will also almost certainly entail a collapse of the global economy—and Swarthmore’s endowment along with it.

While members our Board of Managers questions the effectiveness of divestment as a tactic, the fossil fuel industry takes it quite seriously. Prior to filing for bankruptcy, Peabody Coal listed the fossil fuel divestment movement as a significant risk to their profitability in their annual Form 10-K report, warning that fossil fuel divestment “may adversely affect the demand for and price of securities issued by us, and impact our access to the capital and financial markets.”

Yet somehow, despite a community mandate from the majority of the student body, a historic faculty resolution in favor of divestment passed last May, as well as a letter signed by Noam Chomsky and six other honorary degree recipients. Swarthmore’s Board has continued to stand on the wrong side of history by remaining invested in fossil fuels. This may be less surprising in light of the connections Swarthmore Board members have with the fossil fuel industry. Rhonda Cohen is a director of Glenmede, a financial manager founded on the Sun Oil Company fortune. Cohen, along with Harold Kalkstein and Sam Hayes have past and present connections to over $3 billion in investments in fossil fuel companies.

The urgency of climate change means we must do everything in our power to move away from the carbon economy that is poisoning our planet and harming frontlines communities. Not only do we have a moral obligation to divest, but as Yale’s actions would suggest, a fiduciary one as well. Sparked on our campus five years ago, the movement to divest from fossil fuels has since catalyzed the divestment of funds totaling over $3.4 trillion by more than 500 institutions worldwide. We call on the Board of Managers to follow the example of these institutions and begin to divest our endowment of fossil fuels. Swarthmore must revoke its support of a destructive and outdated industry and invest in a just and sustainable future.

Works Referenced

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


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.”


Swarthmore Mountain Justice ( 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.


* 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.

Pledge to Escalate this April


Last Spring, 975 students, 96 faculty members and 950 alumni joined Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC Christiana Figueres and Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon in calling on Swarthmore to divest from fossil fuels. Just this past month, six noted honorary degree recipients, including Noam Chomsky, Arlie Hochschild, Lorene Cary and John Braxton, added their names to the chorus calling on Swarthmore to divest.

Divestment is an urgent and necessary step in delegitimizing the fossil fuel industry and combatting catastrophic climate change. Yet despite a widespread community mandate and the endorsement of international leaders, Swarthmore’s Board chose not to divest last spring. Gil Kemp claimed that the Board was concerned that divesting would harm the college’s endowment, yet prominent financial institutions such as investments bank HSBC have warned that continued investment in fossil fuels actually poses a financial risk to the endowment. Just last month, oil giant ExxonMobil reported its worst quarterly profits in over a decade, and crude oil prices have dropped 70% since 2014. If we honor the agreement set at the Paris Climate Talks of keeping warming below a rise of 2 degrees Celsius, the value of fossil fuel stocks will plummet.

Since divestment would not harm the endowment, why does the Board continue to invest in an industry that kills millions of people every year and is actively making our planet uninhabitable? A recent investigation into the personal finances of Board members revealed that three prominent members are connected to companies with a total of 3.6 billion invested in the fossil fuel industry. These conflicts of interest clearly compromise these Board members and their ability to make a good faith decision on divestment. Last month, we demanded that these three Board members, Rhonda Cohen, Samuel Hayes III and Harold Kalkstein, recuse themselves from future discussions on divestment to ensure transparency. The Board has failed to respond.

The staggering human toll that climate change wreaks on frontlines communities around the globe makes this a moral crisis of the highest order. We cannot sit idly by while our institution fails to take meaningful action to stigmatize the fossil fuel industry and prevent the worst consequences of climate change. Just as the fossil fuel industry has blocked meaningful progress on combating climate change, these three board members’ ties to the industry block our college from being a global leader.

That’s why we’re asking students, alumni and faculty members to pledge to take escalated action with us this spring. We cannot let the personal financial interests of Board members continue to block meaningful action on the most important global issue of our generation. If you pledge to take nonviolent direct action this April, add your name to this form.


Professor Smithey: Carbon charge no alternative to divestment

by Lee Smithey
This op-ed appeared in The Phoenix Thursday 25 February 2016

This past weekend, the Board of Managers at Swarthmore College approved an internal charge on greenhouse gas emissions. We should mark what appears to be an initial step toward developing a carbon pricing model. However, while welcome, the plan is no alternative to divesting the institution’s $1.9 billion endowment of fossil fuels.


I have had the privilege of both co-authoring the white paper that underpinned the faculty resolution calling for divestment and joining the working group that developed the proposal for the new carbon charge plan. As I write this column, it is not yet clear to what extent the Board adopted the working group’s proposal, but let’s assume for now that congratulations are in order all around! The plan was designed to collect a fee from each department to begin registering the social cost of each metric ton of carbon (or its equivalent in various gases) that the college emits (limited for the moment to the physical plant, electricity use, and emissions associated with planned construction) in order to fund sustainability projects. It also calls us to bend our intellectual energies toward better understanding the social costs of carbon through our teaching, learning, and research and then apply our growing knowledge to the pricing scheme. Why is all this important? It urges us down the long road of building sustainable infrastructures that will be necessary, if we survive the climate crisis.

However, the carbon charge leaves invisible the role of investment capital in sustaining an industry that is playing a dangerous profit-fueled game with our futures, a game that we underwrite and legitimize with our investments. It leaves unexamined the strange fiction that the only appropriate metric for assessing financial investments is financial return, a position that wouldn’t bear scrutiny in most, if any, Swarthmore classrooms. Yet, it is enshrined in the Board of Managers’ 1991 guideline that the “Investment Committee manages the endowment to yield the best long term financial results, rather than to pursue other social objectives.” Do we really believe that our current investments have no impact on social conditions?

Alone, the carbon charge assumes that we, consumers of fossil fuels, are solely responsible for the dilemma in which we find ourselves as a species. Don’t get me wrong, we do bear responsibility, and the new initiative is a step in the right direction. However, we also know that corporations go to great lengths, through marketing and lobbying, to shape the political, social, and economic landscapes in which they operate. Rest assured that while we try to diminish our consumption, fossil fuel companies on the Carbon Underground list will be using our investments to make the task as difficult as possible.

The new carbon charge plan also assumes there is a glide path of declining consumption that can keep global temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius (never mind 1.5 degrees). Sustainability initiatives funded by the carbon charge should be undertaken for the long term common good, but to address the climate crisis, they would have been more appropriate thirty years ago, when the public became aware of global warming. Unfortunately, the fossil fuel industry actively suppressed climate science, we let those decades pass, and we find ourselves in a catastrophically difficult situation.

Now, robust intervention is necessary. The mitigation scenarios that could keep global temperatures within 2 degrees Celsius require carbon sequestration technologies that don’t yet exist and a global price on carbon to have been agreed in 2010 … yes, 2010! Consequently, we need direct regulation of the extraction of fossil fuels accompanied by massive support for research and development of alternative energy, humanitarian aid, and preparation for climate impacts in vulnerable areas.

Through divestment, the college can join other institutions and use its privileged status to signal to world leaders that they can and must take bold steps to regulate the extraction of fossil fuels. Millions of vulnerable people are at severe short term risk (estimated by DARA and the Climate Vulnerable Forum at 6 million per year by 2030). Even the college itself is under threat.

Our students have already done the heavy lifting by launching and building an effective global campaign. We know this because our college representatives at the COP21 summit in Paris reported back that UN President Ban Ki Moon cited the importance of the divestment campaign as part of “a rising global tide of support for a strong, universal agreement,” declaring, “All of us have a […] duty to heed those voices.” Faculty, students, many alumni, and at least six distinguished honorary degree recipients understand President Moon’s perspective, and I expect some managers on the board do as well. After all, the optional Green Fund that the board established for new donations signals that the 1991 guideline is not water tight.

For those in civil society with cultural and economic capital, divestment remains an important tool in our toolbox, and we have a responsibility to use it. As we publicly demonstrate to our political leaders how to say no to fossil fuel companies, we should press them for an ambitious global carbon price, restrictions on fossil fuel extraction, and a plan to freeze the development of new reserves.