OPINION: It’s time for Pomona to disclose where its endowment is invested

Ten students hold up colorful protest banners.
Pomona must disclose and divest from its fossil fuel investments, writes guest columnist Ethan Vitaz PZ ’22. (Anna Choi • The Student Life)

For years, a coalition of student organizations, including Divest Claremont Colleges, Students for Justice in Palestine 5C Prison Abolition and Sunrise Claremont Colleges, have demanded that the Claremont Colleges make their endowment holdings transparent to all members of the college community. 

In December, ASPC and Divest 5Cs jointly formally requested that the Pomona College Board of Trustees disclose the percentage of the college’s endowment holdings that are invested in companies that explore, extract, transport, manufacture, or refine fossil fuels. The board met this month and could not come to a consensus on whether to even vote on disclosure, effectively refusing our request.

Disclosure is an essential aspect of the divestment movement. In order to hold the colleges accountable for their investments, it is critical that each college is transparent with its finances. Now is the time to question where our money is going and what the colleges really value. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, when the colleges evicted their student bodies, Pomona denied support to many low-income students, effectively making them homeless and leading to the student-organized Occupy Pomona movement. Pomona also furloughed hundreds of working-class employees while administrators were making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. At the same time, the endowment saw record growth. The college claims the purpose of the endowment is to support the college in perpetuity, yet the way the endowment is managed does not reflect this ideal. 

It is understandable that the board would be hesitant to release the college’s financial information. Maybe they are worried about sharing proprietary information that could lead to diminished returns. Or maybe they are worried about the publicity that would follow were it to come to light that the college has millions of dollars invested in fossil fuels, companies that support the Israeli occupation of Palestine, weapons manufacturing, private prisons, deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, or any other industries that profit at the expense of communities and the planet. After all, the college is a business and it is the trustees’ job to ensure that the business is profitable. But even so, it is our responsibility as students to demand accountability and transparency from the college. 

Although the trustees did not vote on disclosure of the college’s finances, they decided to sell all of the college’s mineral rights. Simply put, part of the endowment is invested in real estate and the trustees decided to sell the rights to the minerals (including oil) that may exist under the land that the college owns. While this may seem like a step in the right direction, in actuality this allows companies to buy the mineral rights and explore and extract oil from land owned by the college. The trustees decided to sell these rights to absolve themselves of responsibility. This is clearly a greenwashing scheme that looks good on paper (Pomona sold all its rights to oil!) but actually has the potential to increase oil production. This move shows us that the college is only interested in making itself look like a responsible actor while avoiding accountability and transparency. 

Now more than ever, it is essential that students and faculty at the Claremont Colleges, especially Pomona, support demands for disclosure and divestment. The trustees are attempting to divest without any student participation. In this stage of the climate crisis, divestment is an important selling point for any college claiming to be environmentally sustainable and socially responsible. Pomona is attempting to divest to the absolute minimum degree demanded by students so they can claim they have divested without actually putting in the work to create a framework for ethical management of the endowment. Disclosure is only the first step in creating endowment justice at these multi-billion dollar institutions. Divestment and reinvestment require just as much consideration.

ASPC, with the collaboration of student organizers, has included a referendum in order to gauge student support for disclosure and divestment on next week’s ballot, with voting open from March 27-29. Demonstrating student support, and high turnout, is essential to convincing the trustees that divestment is an important issue on campus. We strongly urge all Pomona students to vote yes on both questions, to demand the college do the right thing and be transparent with where our money is going. 

Guest columnist Ethan Vitaz PZ ‘22 is studying environmental analysis. He likes petting dogs and googling Murray Bookchin.

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