Dear Deborah Duncan and April Foley,
We would like to thank you for inviting us to present at the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility (ACIR) in February, and for providing us with a response to our ask. However, the members of Divest Smith College are extremely disappointed in the negative stance the Board has taken in regard to fossil fuel divestment.
In your response, you write “the issue of the Smith endowment and climate change has been raised and addressed,” but we feel that this issue is not addressed without adequately exploring divestment both within the structure of Investure and without. Furthermore, the ACIR’s analysis is not on par with those of our peer institutions, nor was it agreed upon by student representatives on the ACIR, who voiced concerns that Mike Costa’s method was not useful in exploring the likely impacts of divestment. Yet the committee went ahead with this model anyway and continues to claim that the ACIR is informed by student voices, when in fact it was not.
As long as Smith College remains invested in fossil fuels, Smith is complicit in the destruction this industry causes in our communities and around the world. It is true that the recommendations passed by the ACIR are a step towards becoming more conscious of our investments and working towards sustainable investment strategies. However, Divest Smith College and over 200 alumnae have made clear to the Board of Trustees (via the ACIR) that our immoral fossil fuel investments are not addressed by these recommendations.
The Board of Trustees is failing in its duty to listen to student, alumni, and faculty voices and concerns. In 2015, the Student Government Association passed a student referendum in support of fossil fuel divestment and, more recently, hundreds of Smith College alumni have signed a petition in support of divestment. We also have a faculty petition in support of divestment with almost 100 signatures. The Smith community deserves to have our voices heard and regarded with respect. Further inaction by the Board shows a disregard for the concerns of the Smith community, as well as a disregard for the very real impact of the fossil fuel industry on climate change worldwide. The presence of avenues for students to be heard is meaningless if the questions we raise and solutions we advocate for are not given the weight they are due.
Divest Smith College has been advocating for divestment for six years, and we have no plans of stopping until Smith makes tangible progress towards full fossil fuel divestment. We requested the reimplementation of the ACIR more than two years ago for the purposes of acting on divestment directly, and that has not happened. This is a difficult process on both sides, and we are asking for the Board’s support and respect for our experience and knowledge. We are intimately familiar with the recommendations the ACIR has put forth and regard their adoption as moderate progress – these recommendations are an exploration that must go hand in hand with divestment to bear weight. A two-year waiting period in which Smith College refuses to discuss divestment is unacceptable as it does not take into account the reality of climate change. We urge the board to act on this issue with an urgency that matches the monumental degree of our current climate crisis.
Divest Smith College
Today hundreds of alums sent a petition to the Board of Trustees demanding that Smith College take swift and concrete steps towards divesting the entire endowment from the fossil fuel industry. The petition was written and delivered by the Smith College Alumnae for Responsible Investing (SCARI), a network of concerned alumnae who believe that Smith College must align its money with its morals.
The petition is live and the list of signatures is still growing. For the complete text of the letter—and to add your name, if you are a Smith alum—check out the Alum Supporters page.
Today, the Barnard College Board of Trustees approved a plan to divest from coal, tar sands, and other fossil fuels companies that “deny climate science or otherwise seek to thwart efforts to mitigate the impact of climate change,” as written in the college’s media advisory. Barnard is the first college to target specific fossil fuel companies based on their climate actions, which is particularly relevant in today’s political climate.
This decision is a victory for academic freedom and scientific integrity in higher education and is the culmination of over three years of student organizing. In their press release, Divest Barnard acknowledges that this win would not have been possible without broad support from the student body and the work of the Presidential Task Force to Examine Divestment from Fossil Fuels.
“It is incredible to have such overwhelming support for divestment from administration and faculty,” said Divest Barnard sophomore organizer Sam Doss. “We hope that their demonstrated commitment to working with students will raise the bar for other administrations being asked to take on the challenge of fossil fuel divestment. We also hope that this moment will inspire ongoing campaigns.”
Barnard’s decision came just two days after Divest Smith College held a vigil for victims of climate change and the fossil fuel industry. After the vigil, Divest Smith organizers met with the Smith College Board of Trustees to demand a public recommendation on fossil fuel divestment by April 1 from its subcommittee, the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility (ACIR). The ACIR has been meeting for nearly a year and a half and has not committed to any timeline for making a recommendation.
Perhaps this is moment is more inspiring for the students at Smith College than at any other institution. Athena Sofides, a Divest Smith organizer, said, “We are incredibly proud of and inspired by our Seven Sisters sibling and fellow Investure client.”
Currently, the endowments of both Smith College and Barnard College are managed by Investure LLC, which pools their clients’ money together instead of tailoring their portfolios. Barnard College has $18 million and Smith College has over $100 million invested in fossil fuels. Robert Goldberg, Barnard’s chief operating officer, spoke with Bloomberg News, and said, “Climate change is right in front of us — institutions like ours have to act in some way.”
Today, more than 100 peaceful solidarity actions will be taking place across the country to pressure President Obama to revoke the permits for the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL).
This is history in the making. For months, indigenous activists have been “fighting with everything they have to protect their water, the land, their history, and the climate — and we need to fight with them.” Obama already said no to Keystone XL, and we urge him to say no to DAPL, too.
On September 9, three federal agencies blocked construction of the pipeline despite the fact that a federal judge denied the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe their appeal for an injunction against the Army Corps of Engineers. The decision is scheduled to be appealed tomorrow.
Divest Smith College encourages all its members and allies to answer the call to action by attending a local demonstration, contributing to legal defense funds for the Sacred Stone Camp and Red Warrior Camp, calling the White House (202-456-1111), or spreading the word on social media using #NoDAPL.
Today the University of Massachusetts became the first public university to divest its endowment from direct investments in fossil fuels. The University released a statement today and the full story was also published in the Hampshire Gazette.
The UMass Foundation’s unanimous decision follows a series of escalations. Last December, the Foundation committed to divest from direct holdings in coal. Between April 11 and April 15, over 500 students participated in the sit-in at the Whitmore Administration building at UMass Amherst as part of a protest to “divest the rest.”
Students in the UMass Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign have been the driving force in this movement but academic departments, student government, 350.org, media organizations, presidential candidate Jill Stein, and even University President Marty Meehan came out or made statements in support of the students.
Divest Smith College also participated in the sit-in and will continue to stand in solidarity with Divest UMass as it pushes for full divestment from comingled funds as well as direct holdings.
Today, though, we celebrate this victory. It is the result of incredible student organizing and demonstrates the power of the people. Divestment of any college or university makes a big statement that future generations are not satisfied with the status quo and are committed to fighting for climate justice.
This week, Smith College faculty members have started a petition that calls on Smith to divest its endowment from the fossil fuel industry. Throughout the four-year history of the fossil fuel divestment campaign at Smith College, faculty have stood with the movement and acted as leaders, allies, and resources.
Increasing consensus among the faculty that Smith urgently needs to divest its endowment has manifested in this petition, which calls “respectfully and urgently on Smith College (1) to freeze immediately all new investments in coal, oil and natural gas industries and (2) to commit to divest within five years from direct ownership and from any commingled funds that include fossil-fuel public equities and corporate bonds.”
This call to action comes at a key moment in history, with international leaders gathered at the U.N. climate summit in Paris to make commitments to reduce emissions and confront both the causes and impacts of climate change. If Smith is truly committed to preparing women to be global leaders, then it “must now acknowledge its own role in helping finance the disruption of the world’s climate”–which disproportionately impacts women, people of color, and marginalized peoples least responsible for climate change–by divesting from fossil fuels.
You can view the faculty’s petition to divest Smith College here. If you are a faculty member of Smith College, we invite you to sign the petition.
On February 3rd, 2015, Smith College Senate voted in favor of a resolution supporting divestment. The resolution agreed with creating a fossil fuel free portfolio because of the strong moral and political arguments for divestment. In addition, senators demanded the formation of a Committee on Investor Responsibility, which will combine voices of various stakeholders in order to seriously consider the possibility of fossil fuel divestment at Smith and the moral implications of remaining invested in this destructive industry.
Divest Smith College worked closely with senators throughout the process to address their concerns. Together, we decided to make a strong statement in support of divestment for moral, political, and long-term financial reasons, in addition to making a direct ask for reinstatement of the CIR. Senate discussed the resolution over the course of several weeks during the open forum portion of their meetings, with Divest Smith College taking a backseat in these discussions while remaining present to provide additional information.
The resolution is a strong statement from students in favor of fossil fuel divestment. 40 senators voted “yes,” with only 2 “no”s and 5 abstentions.