Energy

Swarthmore Defends Fossil Fuel Investments After Student Uprising

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Chris White Tech Reporter
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Swarthmore College defended its decision to continue investing in fossil fuels Wednesday after student global warming activists published what President Valerie Smith called “distorted” personal attacks on members of the Board of Managers.

Smith and Tom Spock, the chair of the board, said the links between a few individuals on the 37-member board and the oil industry do not constitute a conflict of interest, as some students had argued. And they reiterated the school’s commitment to fighting global warming, while at the same time making a profit from it’s fossil fuel investments that will benefit students.

Members of anti-fossil fuel student group Swarthmore Mountain Justice wrote a recent editorial in The Daily Gazette alleging three of the board members have conflicts of interest due largely to their investments in various oil companies, and demanding they recuse themselves from decisions regarding fossil fuel divestment.

Swarthmore’s Board of Managers refused to divest fossil fuels in May 2015, despite Mountain Justice activists, as well as other campus environmentalists, staging a 32-day sit-in.

Board member Harold Kalkstein founded an energy company that pushes for Arctic drilling and nixing the ban on oil experts, the group reported in January. The board’s vice chair, Rhonda Cohen manages a trust with $1 billion in oil assets, and a third-member, Emeritus Samuel Hayes II, served 20 years on the boards of several mutual funds with $845 million in holding in ExxonMobil.

Smith and Spock defended the board members in a response also published in The Daily Gazette, referring to them as “loyal” and tireless workers for the college who are “deeply committed” to its work.

“Many of the assertions in the piece are unfounded and present a distorted picture of the efforts the Board and the administration have undertaken,” they wrote, pointing to a Green Fund established to fight global warming and other initiatives taken by the school.

They also reiterated the consensus reached by the board in 2013 that the endowment should be managed to “yield the best long-term financial results, rather than to pursue other social objectives,” as has been the case since 1991. ”

“It is the Board’s responsibility to ensure that both current and future generations of Swarthmore students have access to the financial resources required …” they wrote, adding: “The weight of this responsibility is clearer than ever before in a year when our financial aid budget has increased by nearly 20 percent.”

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