A Letter to the Trustees: Divestment Matters

In just
six years, divestment campaigns have spread throughout religious, governmental and educational institutions worldwide. Examples of successful divestment
campaigns include the Rockefeller Brothers’ Fund, the City of Seattle and
Stanford University. 

Students
at Pomona College and Pitzer College began their campaigns together almost two years ago, but
only the latter was a success. Although Pomona and Pitzer are different
institutions, the students of the Pomona Divestment Campaign believe divestment
is also right for Pomona.

Don
Gould, a Pomona alumnus and the chair of the Pitzer Trustee Investment Committee
was recently interviewed by the L.A.
Times.
 In that interview, he contends that colleges can make divestment work at a limited cost. 

But
Gould’s main argument goes beyond economics. Indeed, Gould confirms something
the divestment movement has long touted: The question of divestment is one of
values, not investments.

Divestment
is a symbolic action for broader climate and social justice movements. For
example, when institutions divested from tobacco or South Africa,
they took a stance on the morality of the tobacco industry and South African apartheid. The purpose of fossil
fuel divestment is not to bankrupt these fossil fuel companies, but to combat
climate change and decades of environmental racism.

Gould
reminds us that this symbolic action can and will increase citizen awareness,
which will eventually evolve into systemic political change. He explains, “When
Rosa Parks took her seat on the bus, that was symbolic, but it made a
difference.” Divestment concerns the climatic issues facing the planet as well
as the need to transition to climate justice. 

Ultimately, divestment creates an
opportunity for Pomona to take action that is meaningful beyond our walls. 

We laud
Don Gould for taking a stance on climate justice. He has recognized the
inherent responsibility of elite academic institutions to contribute to the
growing climate change movement. Pomona is in a unique position of leadership
on social and environmental issues. Gould’s experiences as a financial
professional, a Claremont trustee and a fellow Sagehen make his voice
impossible to ignore. It’s time for our administration to listen.

It is
the support of students, faculty and alumni that has empowered us to send a
letter to the trustees. Yesterday we submitted a request to present divestment
to the full Board of Trustees. Our request is duplicated here:   

To
Jeanne M. Buckley, Chair, Pomona College Board of Trustees: 

Despite
last fall’s announcement that Pomona would refrain from divestment, the
movement to withdraw holdings in fossil fuel companies has surged. We, the
students of the Pomona Divestment Team, believe the conditions have changed
since our campaign began nearly two years ago. We ask Pomona to reopen a
dialogue on fossil fuel divestment and our position in the climate change
movement.

After
delivering a letter to President Oxtoby in December 2012 and presenting to the
Trustee Investment Committee in February, we were directed to the Committee on
Social Responsibility as the appropriate venue for the College’s consideration
of divestment. The Committee represented the broader College community,
including students, faculty, and staff. We do not believe this venue was given
fair weight in the College’s decision on divestment. 

The
Committee made four recommendations in support of divestment: (1) that
divestment is a tactic in line with the College’s mission, (2) that the
Trustees divest Pomona’s separately held funds, (3) to investigate the costs of
divestment, and (4) to provide options that the College might pursue to reduce
investments in fossil fuel companies. These recommendations were never passed
to the full Board of Trustees, but rather the Executive Committee alone.

President
Oxtoby’s email announcement of September 2013 failed to address the Committee’s
recommendation for divestment alternatives. No mention was given of new
initiatives the College could pursue to limit fossil fuel investment, or
address climate change in other ways. 

Given
the events that have occurred in the past year, we question the current
validity of the estimated cost of divestment. The Cambridge Associates report
asserts that divestment requires the withdrawal of all investments in
commingled funds, since fund managers would not be willing to work with schools
to divest. However, the students that have mobilized against their financial
advisors shake this claim.

Further,
the cost of divestment from commingled funds relies on a number of contested
assumptions. A report by Professor Jay Prag (Claremont Graduate University,
Economics and Finance) criticizes the methods of the report, arguing that it is
impossible to accurately claim fossil-free investment strategies underperform
other investment strategies. Professor Prag writes, fossil fuel divestment does
not require a substantial loss of diversification. The superior performance of
some mutual fund managers is exaggerated statistically to appear better than
the market average. 

If
divestment is approached as a moral issue first, and an investment issue
second, decision-makers can find ways to divest. As a college community, we
should first consider if divestment is in line with Pomona’s mission. If so, we
can openly approach identifying divestment solutions that are right for Pomona.
We believe that if our financial advisors are open to the idea of divestment,
they can find methods of reducing fossil fuel investments that have only negligible
costs. Accepting Cambridge’s current investment approach as the only divestment
possibility lacks the creative inquiry Pomona seeks to instill in its students.

Tom
Steyer, Stanford University Trustee and former hedge fund manager, believes
fossil fuel divestment is “entirely possible, and well within the skills” of
college financial advisors. Stanford announced its decision to divest from
coal-mining companies in May. 

Don
Gould, Chair of the Pitzer Trustee Investment Committee and Pomona College graduate,
found that divesting 99 percent of Pitzer’s endowment would not have a
meaningful impact on financial returns. Pitzer announced its divestment of
fossil fuels in April. Gould continues to publicly support divestment and urge
other institutions to investigate investment solutions.

Despite
the support of a large constituency of students and faculty, we have been
excluded from the decision-making arena—a space shielded by closed Trustee
meeting doors. Divestment has captured the interest of the college community,
and we would like to see our administration foster the dialogue on social
responsibility and climate change. 

The
members of the Pomona Divestment Campaign respectfully ask for an opportunity
to address the full Board of Trustees in their February meeting, and that the
decision on divestment be brought to the attention of the full Board.

We hope
to engage with you in the discussion surrounding divestment. However, if we
continue to be excluded from the conversation, you can expect us to continue
organizing. Climate justice is a cause we firmly endorse, despite little
support from our administration. After nearly two years of campaigning, we’re
still here. Climate change persists, and so will we. 

Signed,

The
Pomona Divestment Team

With the
support of 113 Pomona College students and growing

Meagan
Tokunaga PO ’15 is majoring in public policy analysis with a concentration in
environmental analysis. As an intern with 350.org, she started the Claremont
Colleges Divestment Campaign. Ki’Amber Thompson PO ’18 studies English and the
environment. She is the media coordinator of the Pomona Divestment Campaign.
Minah Choi PO ’18 studies politics and the environment and serves as the
logistics coordinator of the Pomona Divestment Campaign.

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