Tag Archives: divestment

Op-Ed: The Middlebury Dilemma

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A middbeat contributor weighs in on the People’s Climate March from a few weeks ago where more than 130 students travelled to New York to protest the UN’s 2014 Climate Summit, and speaks to the culture of environmentalism at Midd.  Feel free to share your thoughts below and join in on the conversation.

“Shoulda, Coulda, Didn’t”, was the call to arms for the 400,000 other people marching across New York City in arms against the global climate change crisis at the People’s Climate March two Sundays ago. Mass demonstrations like the PCM are often points of conflict in our generation—radicals want to burn down all industrial institutions while the opposition continues to lobby in favor of fracking, fossil fuel excavation and emissions. Efforts to change the culture of our current energy investments and security are numerous and strong, but bureaucracy for change is slow and often painfully ineffective.

Middlebury College has branded itself as a big leader on the environment nestled away in an idyllic Green Mountain setting. The decorous history of our institution seems to speak for itself: in 1965 we were the first college to offer an environmental studies major, more recently in 2007 we pledged to go carbon neutral by 2016, and we were the cradle of the international climate change movement 350.org.  At the PCM, 130 Midd students turned out to put pressure on the 2014 UN climate summit. The issue of global warming isn’t a new item on Middlebury’s agenda. A few weeks ago Middlebury scholar and leading environmentalist Bill McKibben, Middlebury Physics Professor Richard Wolfson, and student activists stood in front of a standing audience in St. Stephen’s chapel, exposing the dangers of rising temperatures: acidification of the seas, drier and more frequent droughts and the increased intensity of hurricanes—we all can think back to Hurricane Irene that swept chaos across Vermont in 2011.

Yet there is a kind of darkness that breeds a strong sense of discomfort in Middlebury’s current environmental agenda. The college’s support for the Vermont Gas Pipeline, which will be used to transport fracked gas across Vermont, having fossil fuel firms in our endowment portfolio, and the obstinate lack of transparency in the administrative rings exposes a destructive inconsistency between Middlebury and its green mission – or rather, its pseudo-green one. The Middlebury mission statement reads:

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ICYMI: Middlebury College Decides Not To Divest

A divestment rally at Middlebury last spring.

A student divestment rally in front of Old Chapel last spring.

Hopefully everyone has heard by now that Middlebury’s Board of Trustees decided NOT to divest the College’s endowment from fossil fuel and weapons industries. Just in case you missed it (BTW it was noted in this NYT article about college divestment movements a few days ago), Prez Liebowitz outlined three questions that prevented them from doing it:

  • What practical effect would divestment likely have?
  • What impact would divestment likely have on future returns of the endowment?
  • Would divesting from companies in the fossil-fuel sector open the door to future requests for the College to divest from other areas of the economy that some might find objectionable?

Although it’s a little late, we still wanted to highlight some responses from people involved in the divestment movement. First of all, here is Bill McKibben in the Addison Independent last week:

“It would have been very nice if Middlebury had done the right thing right off the bat, but it took them several years when the question was apartheid,” said Bill McKibben, Shuman Distinguished Scholar at the college and founder of the global environmental action group 350.org, in a Thursday email to the Independent. “So, this opens up a good chance of ongoing education with students, faculty, (and) alumni. I admire Ron Liebowitz enormously, and I look forward to the time when his trustees enable him to make a statement more consistent with the core values of the college.”

Also in that story is a response from 350.org, the organization McKibben founded with Midd students:

“We take issue with (Liebowitz’s) basic idea — that divestment is mostly a symbolic argument, associated with too many unanswered questions and high risk,” they wrote. “It’s in fact a practical tool to reduce the political power of the wealthiest industry on the planet. But even if you accept his terms, we believe Middlebury can do more. Though the available data shows endowments would have made far more money in the last decade had they divested from fossil fuels, great colleges are about more than money.”

Finally, here is a letter members of the student organization Divest Middlebury, who have led and continue to lead the divestment movement on our campus:

Dear President Liebowitz, the College administration, and the Board of Trustees,

Thank you for your transparency in your statement regarding divestment and the Board’s internal processes and preliminary proposals. We appreciate the time you have dedicated and your willingness to collaborate with us as we work to divest our endowment of fossil fuels and arms manufacturing holdings. While an increased commitment to ESG (Environment, Social, and Governance) principles is a positive step, it is not enough.

We recognize that divestment will not be an easy process. However, Middlebury has repeatedly taken on the threat posed by climate change and is the alma mater to many devoted environmental and social justice advocates. We believe we must invest in our values and divest from that which threatens the world in which we are learning to engage.

President Liebowitz claimed that a number of critical questions regarding the College’s decision on divestment remain unanswered; we seek to provide answers that will guide the discussion on divestment in the coming months. (Read the rest after the jump) Continue reading

Bill McKibben Offers $50K Reward for Midd Divestment

the ubiquitous blue fleece photo

the ubiquitous blue fleece photo

Bill McKibben, the College’s Schumann Distinguished Scholar (or, in plainspeak, the famous climate change warrior who’s occasionally on campus when he’s not too busy getting arrested at the White House and headlining a badass national tour), made the news this week (even FoxNews!) for winning Norway’s Sophie Prize, “one of the world’s most generous environment and sustainable development Prizes.”

Given that McKibben is such a celebrated figure in the environmental movement, it wasn’t not surprising that he received the award. What was surprising was McKibben’s announcement about what he plans to do with his $100,000 cash prize: He wants to give the College half of his winnings…but he wants something in return.

Sure, people give money to the College all the time. But this time it’s different; Bill has a unique stipulation. The College doesn’t have to name a building after him, establish a prize in his honor, or even plant him a tree (how long would it last anyway?) If the College wants the cash, it has to divest its endowment from fossil fuels.

Divestment’s been discussed on panels, marched around campus, ranted about on MiddConfessional, and shouted through megaphones this year. After all the noise, the Board of Trustees still chose not to vote on the issue. Student activists and McKibben aren’t giving up yet, but given the “meh” response from the important people in Old Chapel, they’ll likely diversify their tactics.

The cash reward is a new tactic; to the best of our knowledge, no one has offered the College cold hard cash to divest. That’s probably because $50,000 is not a real incentive. The College has an $889 million endowment and a recently-approved $292.4 million operating budget, so $50K is a drop in the fiscal bucket. But the offer’s a clever jab at the College; it’s a renowned, College-employed climate leader saying, hey Midd, if student supportalumni/staff support and faculty support aren’t enough, what gives? Seems like money is the only thing that gets shit done around here…maybe a little cash will do the trick?

It will be interesting to see whether the College responds to Bill’s generous offer. Post your thoughts and we’ll keep you updated…


Trustees Choose Not To Vote On Divestment


310096_10201165408597782_1738763098_n             All these pics of the weekend’s pro-divestment demonstrations are from Adrian Leong ’16.
check out more photos here


(boo hoo people that got woken up early this weekend…”activism” on campus is soo tame. if you’re pissed that you lost an hour of sleep to some clanging pots and pans, you probably didn’t support divestment in the first place.)

This past weekend, the Middlebury College Board of Trustees chose not to vote on the divestment of the 4.2% of our endowment (over over $36 million) invested in fossil fuels and arms manufacturing. Despite the panels, endorsements, and demonstrations, the Board decided to “put it off” until next year. Or until the year after that. Or until never.

Here is are some thoughts from one pro-divestment demonstrator:

“They told student organizers that we have to be patient, that we have to wait. Millions of people suffering the destruction of their communities at the hands of fossil fuel industry and arms manufacturers do not have the luxury of waiting any longer.”

The no-vote didn’t seem to enter the campus gossip mill this week amidst the stress of finals and the even greater stress of senior crush lists.

Has the issue of divestment exhausted itself among students on campus? A sizable group of students cared enough to gather outside of Old Chapel for Friday’s Divestment Darty, and a smaller (but noisier) group of students chanted outside of Old Chapel during the Trustees’ 9-11:30AM meeting on Saturday. But the diehards aside, do people still care about divestment? Faculty, staff, and alumni seem to. Will more of the same types of action work, or does a new strategy need to be found for those who are trying to the fight fossil fuel and weapons industries? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

More pics after the jump: Continue reading

Video of Student Divestment Panel

The College released a video of the student divestment panel that happened last Sunday. Check it out if you couldn’t make it. And keep the conversation going. Here are the panelists:

  • Jeannie Bartlett ’15, Environmental Studies/Conservation Biology major, co-president of the Socially Responsible Investing Club, and a member of the Advisory Council on Socially Responsible Investing
  • Teddy Smyth ’15,  Environmental Studies/Policy major and Student Organizer for “Divest for Our Future”
  • Ryan Kim ’14, Economics major, member of the Student Investment Club, and the SGA Finance Committee
  • Ben Wiggins, ’14, Political Science major and Economics minor, and a member of the Student Investment Club
  • Zach Drennen ’13.5, Political Science and Economics majors, columnist for The Middlebury Campus and co-author of the forthcoming book “The End is Not Near: How energy innovation can unlock local economies and avert climate catastrophe”
  • Janet Bering ’13, Environmental Studies/Biology Major and member of the Environmental Council
  • Michael Patterson ’13, Classical Studies major with an Economics minor and an active private investor.

A Brief History of Graffiti at Middlebury

A stencil on the side of hillcrest this

A stencil on the side of Hilllcrest yesterday morning, reading, “Blood on our hands/Invested in Arms”

Yesterday’s Hillcrest graffiti pissed a lot of people off, including Bill McKibben, Jon Isham, and SRI leaders (check the letter and comments  on this Middblog post). Many were worried about how it would affect the image of the divestment campaign, and others decried the entitlement and privilege inherent in defacing a building (they had to replace the whole panel apparently).

Since it really struck a chord in the community, we decided it would be interesting to put this tag in perspective. So we present to you a brief and incomplete history of graffiti on campus.

December 8, 1966: Before Midd Confessional there were desks. According to this article, people used to use desks to gossip and voice their thoughts–everything from the profound (“God is Dead”) to the immature and homophobic (“Zorro is a homo”) Continue reading

TOMORROW, 3/6: Beyond Divestment Summit


New-Economy-flat-for-webFrom the organizers–

“Beyond Divestment is a day-long summit which seeks to create space for the Middlebury community to explore the kinds of economic alternatives that are springing up all over the world. Join innovators in the areas of alternative currencies, time banking, impact investing, financial system regulation and reform, and “new economy” coalition building, as well as your own friends and neighbors for a conversation about how we can sow the seeds of a better, more life-affirming, economy.”

Read more to see the full schedule of tomorrow’s events:

The president of New Economics Institute Bob Massie together with Bill McKibben will speak about “A New Economy and Divestment”
at the Orchard, Franklin Environmental Center.
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