Pomona Faculty Show Divestment Support

Divest Pomona, a student organization advocating for fossil fuel divestment at Pomona College, distributed a letter Jan. 18 among faculty members to enlist support for divestment in preparation for their upcoming presentation to the Board of Trustees Feb. 26. The letter, which was drafted by Meagan Tokunaga PO ’15 and Eliza Burke PO ’18 and revised by John Jurewitz, a lecturer in economics at Pomona, had received 40 faculty signatures as of Feb. 3.

Divest Pomona members plan to deliver the letter, which calls for the Board of Trustees to reconsider divesting the college’s endowment from fossil fuels, during the Feb. 26 presentation. Tokunaga and Burke said that they wrote the letter to demonstrate faculty support for an open, inclusive dialogue about divestment.

The letter asks that the Board of Trustees “explore more nuanced and creative approaches that would result in a socially responsible pattern of portfolio investments and uses of college funds.”

Jurewitz said that he encouraged the Divest Pomona students to write a “conservative, conciliatory” letter.

“It needs to get people back to the table to talk,” he said. “If it’s a confrontational letter, it’s too easily dismissed.”

Tokunaga and Burke said that their letter has received positive responses from faculty members.

“Some faculty who aren’t necessarily supportive of divestment initially are very supportive of the letter, and they agree that the college didn’t give the issue enough attention,” Tokunaga said. “It’s more about how decisions are made at the college and really incorporating the different actors involved.”

David Menefee-Libey, politics professor and chair of Pomona’s Faculty Executive Committee, hopes that the faculty can convene a forum about divestment in the spring.

“The challenge is going to be to do it in a way that is productive [and] isn’t just a conversation for our own edification,” Menefee-Libey added.

According to Menefee-Libey, many faculty members are concerned about the broader questions of divestment and climate change. Char Miller, W. M. Keck Professor of Environmental Analysis at Pomona, and Rick Hazlett, environmental studies and geology professor and coordinator of the environmental analysis program, both characterized climate change as an urgent problem for our times.

“The message [of divestment] is that all of us in our collective and individual lives need to begin to think through and actually take steps to correct our dependence on fossil fuels,” Miller said. “There is no better place for that kind of conversation than an academic environment.”

Hazlett agreed that the college has a moral obligation to take action.

“The question for the college should at least be, ‘If we don’t divest to get the message out there, what are we going to do?’” Hazlett said.

Similarly, Jurewitz hoped that the Board of Trustees will reevaluate the possibilities for divestiture and other forms of action against climate change.

“I think they looked at a fairly narrow question: 100 percent divestiture or not, all or nothing,” Jurewitz said. “I understand your response, but now let’s talk about the middle ground, what else might possibly be done.”

Pomona President David Oxtoby emphasized that although the college opted not to divest in 2013, it has taken measures to increase sustainability, including committing to net carbon neutrality by 2030 and investing in clean tech funds.

“There are many ways in which we can work with students to create change, from improving our practices on energy use on campus to intellectual engagement in the classroom that can lead to new breakthroughs in energy to developing bold, new leaders committed to working on climate change at the national and global levels,” Oxtoby wrote in an email to TSL.

In preparation for the Feb. 26 Board of Trustees meeting, Divest Pomona will hold an event Feb. 13 for "Global Divestment Day" where students will read letters about their reasons for supporting divestment and Jurewitz will read the letter he helped draft. The event will also include a mock Board of Trustees presentation.