At an emergency meeting this weekend in New York City, the Swarthmore Board of Managers voted unanimously to divest from failed clean energy company Solyndra. The fund managers charged with investing the endowment have pledged to rebalance the endowment portfolio by making a highly lucrative investment in TransCanada, the innovative Calgary-based company behind the soon-to-be-approved Keystone XL pipeline. Calling the historic divestment action–the first since 1989–an important piece of the Board’s push towards greater social responsibility, the Board promised a higher return on this new investment.
“For us, social responsibility is all about doing what’s best for our world as well as our students,” said longtime Board member Michaels Alexander ‘58. “That means making smart and thoughtful choices and not investing in bankrupt companies” like Solyndra, he said.
“This investment will help TransCanada create jobs and lots of energy,” said Board Committee on Social Responsibility member Elizabeth Greenberg ‘73, an investor who specializes in high-tech start ups at Bain Capital Venture Partners. “It’s a radical action, and I’m proud to say it’s fully in line with our goals as stewards of Swarthmore College.”
Treasurer and Vice President for Finance Susie Elsh wrote in a statement released to the press that the investment decision fits with the College’s philosophy of endowment management. “We have stated before, and reiterate now, that the endowment is not intended to pursue a social agenda other than the highly important social agenda of making money,” Welsh wrote. “If that agenda requires investing in the exploitative and dirty extractive industries of late capitalism, I think we can all agree that the ends justify the means.”
The College’s initial 1.5 million-dollar investment in Solyndra, which came on the heels of a headline-making loan from the Obama administration, will not be fully recovered, said Board Finance Committee member David Hernandez ‘89. But by investing two million dollars in TransCanada, the Board hopes to recover the difference with a significant surplus in the first year alone, he said. “All that’s left is for Obama to sign off on the Keystone pipeline. I hope he makes the same decision about social responsibility that we did and approves it.”
A tipping point in the divestment campaign came last month when a group of about thirty alumni gathered to protest the investment in Solyndra, which at that point carried almost literally zero market value. The gathering, which took place in the lobby of Merriwether, Hobson, and Blankfein, the Midtown Manhattan law firm whose office serves as the de facto meeting place for many Board members, was covered in the March edition of the College bulletin.
Chanting slogans like “Bankruptcy does not equal democracy,” and “You should have divested eighteen months ago when Solyndra’s colossal failure was widely reported in the media,” the group of alumni insisted that something had to be done.
“Forget about our planet, this company was ruining our portfolio,” said Greenberg. “The protesters were trying to send a message to the Board that I’d been trying to make for over a year. Thank god they were successful.”
While TransCanada’s future success cannot be predicted with complete accuracy, initial estimates by the Board’s Finance Committee suggest that revenue from the new investment will be able to fund two $57,000 annual financial aid packages beginning in the 2013-2014 year.
“Sounds like a good deal,” said David Hyll ‘13.