The Pomona College student body overwhelmingly approved a resolution to support divestment of Pomona’s endowment from the fossil fuel industry in the next five years, with 78 percent of students voting in favor of the resolution. Results were announced April 9, and 895 students voted. The vote makes Pomona the first student body on the West Coast to pass a resolution in support of divestment.
In response to the passage of the resolution, the Committee for Social Responsibility (CSR) met Wednesday to discuss possible recommendations regarding future action on divestment that they hope to present to the Board of Trustees before the end of the semester.
While no recommendations have been made, the CSR hopes to decide on a definitive list by its next meeting April 17, said professor Thomas Moore, Convener of the CSR.
According to Moore, the committee members want to have a clearer conception of the possible consequences of divestment on the endowment returns before they make specific recommendations to the Board.
“Basically we were weighing the issues and trying to understand the financial complexities; we’re considering various types of options and not simply voting up or down in order to figure out a way to go forward,” Moore said. “We’re trying to get the financial data in better shape, so we’ll really know what we’re talking about.”
Pomona’s endowment is currently managed by Cambridge Associates, a firm that coordinates the investment of the endowment. Under Cambridge’s auspices, the endowment is currently split among an array of fund managers who each individually decide where and how it should be invested.
Many of these individual funds are commingled, which means Pomona’s endowment is inextricably invested along with capital provided from other organizations.
According to Karen Sisson, Pomona’s Vice President and Treasurer, the multiplicity of the endowment’s investments renders them difficult to screen for fossil fuels.
“You can’t just screen commingled funds. You have to get out of commingled funds. We are not the only investors, and we would probably have to exit the funds, which are about 92 percent of the endowment,” Sisson said.
CSR and 5C Divestment Campaign member Meagan Tokunaga PO ’15 sees the Committee’s continued deliberations as contributing to a clearer understanding of the implications of divestment on the operating budget.
“Not voting shouldn’t be taken as this huge negative. Everybody wants to make sure they’re well informed enough to make a solid decision. We are all representatives of different parts of the Pomona College community and want to make sure that we have the most well informed decision possible,” Tokunaga said.
Even without a recommendation from CSR, Tokunaga remains hopeful that the approval of the resolution will prompt the Board of Trustees to begin to more seriously explore the effects of divestment on the endowment.
If CSR recommends divestment and the Board decides to pursue it, the Board will have to approach Cambridge Associates to discuss the feasibility of the endeavor, possibly prompting reservations from the fund managers.
Because of the inability to confidently predict the repercussions of divestment on the endowment and, by default, the operating budget, Sisson has remained hesitant about explicitly supporting or opposing the process.
“What we’re trying to do now [is] maybe just find some sort of index. Since Pomona has consistently performed better than comparable institutions, we are hoping to see how relatable indices perform with similar investments and then add the Pomona premium to that number,” Sisson said.
Fellow CSR and 5C Divestment Campaign member Patrick Pelegri-O’Day PO ’15 said he also expects the evinced student support for divestment to spur action from the Board. He views the Board’s approach to investigation on divestment to be significantly delayed already.
“I think they’re dragging their feet, honestly. I think they could be doing a lot more. I hope that the very strong show of student support through the referendum will push them to explore that more fully and go to Cambridge and ask what the feasibility of this is,” Pelegri-O’Day said. “I think they just haven’t been pushing for it enough.”
Lena Connor, Associated Students of Pomona College (ASPC) Commissioner of Environmental Affairs, said that in response to the vote the ASPC Senate will vote on a referendum today asking Presient David Oxtoby to set a date of completion for the President’s Climate Commitment that he signed in 2007.
The American Colleges and University Presidents Climate Commitment (APUPCC) commits its signatories to conduct an emissions audit of campus, prepare a Climate Action Plan with definite dates for achieving climate neutrality, and annually update the campus emissions audit.
Connor said she sees the success of the resolution as a sign that the campus community has begun focus on climate change as a serious environmental issue.