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.”

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