On the morning of Friday, October 18th, Smith College announced its plan to divest from fossil fuels. The college plans to accomplish this by excluding future investments with fossil fuel-specific managers, and phasing out current investments over the next 15 years. The founding objective of the Divest Smith College campaign was to get a commitment from Smith to divest the endowment from fossil fuels, and we are beyond thrilled that Smith has chosen to take this historic step and lead with us in the fight for climate justice. We congratulate the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility, the Investment Committee, and the full Board of Trustees on making this happen.
Our deepest gratitude goes out to the Smith student body, alums, faculty, staff, and student organizations who supported this campaign. We are also sincerely thankful for the support of Extinction Rebellion Western Mass, Climate Action Now, Nuclear Ban US, the Center for Religious and Spiritual Life at Smith, the Resistance Center for Peace and Justice, and Sunrise Northampton. We all made this happen. We look forward to continuing to build relationships as a community and a movement.
We are heartened by Smith’s responsiveness to student concerns and commitment to addressing climate inequity, such as the Year on Climate Change and the plan for carbon neutrality by 2030. We also acknowledge that this decision is not radical, as fossil fuel divestment is financially prudent in the long term, and that this decision shows that Smith has the capacity to keep taking steps in the right direction. Therefore, we hope to receive a commitment from Smith to collaborate with Divest Smith College and the entire student body and community on plans for reinvestment as divestment is carried out. Beyond this, we look forward to seeing more community involvement in future decisions made by the administration that affect students, staff, faculty, and residents of the Pioneer Valley.
To the members of the Smith College Board of Trustees:
As we are sure you are aware, Middlebury College announced their commitment on January 29, 2019 to divest from fossil fuels while remaining a client of Investure LLC. It is clear that the Middlebury Board of Trustees, Divest Middlebury, the student body, and Investure have concluded that divestment is an effective way to combat the injustices of climate change at their source: the fossil fuel industry. Middlebury’s laudable choice to move forward with fossil fuel divestment, despite their 2013 decision against it, gives us hope that this kind of sustainable investing and institutional responsibility is possible at Smith College.
In order to fully realize our commitment to carbon neutrality by 2030, we cannot continue to profit from the unethical fossil fuel industry, because by extension it renders our institution complicit. This industry is unsustainable, in both a climate and a financial sense, and full fossil fuel divestment is a necessary retroactive move to align our finances with our institutional morals. Middlebury has found a way to strike a balance between their values and their fiduciary responsibility, and committed to fighting climate change beyond just their campus.
As outlined in our mission statement, Smith College is “a college of and for the world,” but our investments currently do not reflect that global consciousness. The impacts of climate change are felt far beyond our campus, by communities who are consistently refused deserved help and the equity our institution so prizes. As the two-year implementation of the ACIR’s 2017 recommendations comes to a close in October, we are sure the board will consider these developments in future decisions surrounding fossil fuel divestment and sustainability at Smith. Our peer, Middlebury, has set an institutional standard for action on climate change that explicitly utilizes divestment. We urge Smith College to follow their example. It is us, and the generations of young people after us, who will feel the consequences of continued inaction on climate change.
Divest Smith College
We found the following resources useful and educational; we hope you do as well.
The links below provide insight into Middlebury’s decision against divestment in 2013, and their more recent decision in favor of it:
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.