Divest Pomona Presents to Board of Trustees

Divest Pomona, a student organization advocating for fossil fuel divestment at Pomona College, presented to Pomona's Board of Trustees at its Feb. 26 meeting. In their presentation, Meagan Tokunaga PO ’15, Eliza Burke PO ’18 and Minah Choi PO ’18 asked the Board to create a trustee committee for climate action and sustainability that would include faculty, trustees, students, staff and alumni and would make a recommendation to the board concerning climate change by December 2015.

In September 2013, the Board of Trustees decided not to divest after meeting with students from the 5C Divestment Campaign in March, primarily based on a report by the college’s investment consultant, Cambridge Associates, which estimated the cost of divestment at $6.6 million in spendable income per year. 

“We think that the issue and the movement has evolved enough since the Board last considered it that the issue should be considered by a committee that fully represents the community,” Tokunaga said. “This committee can work out some of the details of the different alternatives that exist.”

The Divest Pomona students are currently waiting to receive a response from the Board about their request for a new trustee committee.

“The creation of new standing committees of the Board requires an amendment to the bylaws of Pomona College, by a vote of the full Board,” wrote Teresa Shaw, secretary to the Board of Trustees, in an email to TSL.

Burke, Choi and Tokunaga said that many trustees responded positively to the presentation and seemed enthusiastic about the idea of creating a committee to discuss divestment and climate change.

“I thought it was very well done," said Jeanne Buckley, chair of the Board of Trustees. “It was broadly fleshed out so that they gave a lot of potential ways to look at the issue of climate change, and so I think there are some things that we can certainly think about.”

According to Burke, Choi and Tokunaga, the trustees appreciated that the students acknowledged alternatives to full divestment, including on-campus and off-campus sustainability initiatives that could offset investments in fossil fuels.

“Two years ago, when [the 5C Divestment Campaign] presented, I guess it was really black and white, perfect divestment or nothing, and this year we decided to take a more nuanced approach to it,” Burke said. “I think [the trustees] really liked that because it showed that we understood that there are costs to full divestment and that we could find some way to make a compromise.”

In their presentation, the students mentioned ideas for reducing Pomona’s carbon footprint that were informally proposed by John Jurewitz, lecturer in economics at Pomona. These proposals included a student tax on carbon emissions and the purchase and retirement of California carbon emission allowances, which would force other industries to decrease their carbon emissions.

“Perfect 100% divestment is probably expensive in terms of direct and indirect transactional costs alone," wrote Donald Gould PO ’79, a Pitzer College trustee who has been at the forefront of Pitzer’s divestment efforts, in an email to TSL. "But the divestment decision for a college is not about perfect implementation. Rather, it’s a statement of intention and direction. Viewed that way, there is usually a divestment path that entails small and acceptable costs.”

Jurewitz suggested that Pomona’s commingled fund managers track the amount of dividends that come from fossil fuel companies and use those dividends to supplement sustainability projects on campus, invest in clean energy funds or buy offsets for on-campus carbon emissions.

“Trustees ought to be able to accommodate the divestment advocates relative to the ten percent of funds that are not invested in commingled funds,” Jurewitz said.

The Divest Pomona students hoped that the proposed trustee committee would consider options like those suggested by Jurewitz.

“We ideally want divestment, and we think that it’s the strongest method of climate action that we can take,” Burke said. “We don’t want to just do other sustainability initiatives because the isolated actions aren’t going to have a political effect like divestment will, but we want to make sure that [the trustees] know that we’re open to collaborating and that it’s going to be an ongoing process.”

Burke said that it would be helpful for the Board of Trustees to receive another financial analysis from Cambridge Associates.

In an email to TSL, President David Oxtoby wrote, “We asked for a comprehensive review [of the financial impact of divestment] in 2013 and I do not think a new review is necessary.”