On the morning of Thursday, March 19, 37 students and 6 alumni began a sit-in at the College’s Finance and Investments Office, calling on Investments Committee Chair Chris Niemczewski ‘74 and Board Chair Gil Kemp ‘72 “to return in good faith to the negotiating table and begin a process towards fossil fuel divestment.” More students and alumni have filtered in and out of the Parrish offices throughout the afternoon as MJ members organize their campaign, pose for photos, and give interviews to the press.
This sit-in is the latest step in a year of increased action from Mountain Justice. In September, over 200 students participated in the People’s Climate March in New York City. In December, Mountain Justice delivered a petition containing over 1,161 student, faculty, and alumni signatures supporting divestment to the Board of Managers. In February, five MJ members met with five members of the Swarthmore Board of Managers to present their Fossil Fuel Divestment Proposal. Two weeks ago, Gregory H. Kats, an investment expert, wrote an op-ed that called divestment the “fiscally rational and morally grounded option.”
Swarthmore’s Board of Managers, however, has remained firm, saying that divestment efforts “ignore the potential negative consequences on the College’s operating budget that would result from a significant change in the structure and long-term relationship that the College has built with its external investment managers.”
Mountain Justice’s core team developed this plan after continued failed efforts to negotiate with the Board. “We’ve been attempting to negotiate in good faith with the Board for years now,” said Erika Weiskopf ‘17, who became involved with last semester. “But, consistently, Chris Niemczewski and Gil Kemp have refused to come to the table and negotiate in good faith […] If the Board is going to refuse to negotiate with us in good faith, we feel that we need to escalate our campaign.” Weiskopf stressed that the sit-in was designed not to infringe on student life, but rather to target the administration.
At 2:45pm, Interim President Constance Hungerford read a statement from the Board to the crowded gathered in Parrish:
“On behalf of the Board and the College, I want to tell you that we hear you. We are listening to your voices, and to all of the voices of our students, faculty, staff, and alumni. We are considering what we hear thoughtfully. We respect your decision to engage in peaceful protest.
As you know, following careful consideration and analysis two years ago, the Board of Managers made a consensus-based decision not to divest. The Board is already planning to continue this discussion at its meeting in May. You have asked to meet with the Board Chair and the Chair of our Investment Committee. However, Gil Kemp is presently doing philanthropic work in Asia. Moreover, even if he or the Investment Chair were here, neither could unilaterally change a Board decision. Following our Quaker tradition and governance procedures, that requires a consensus of the full Board of Managers. So we all need to look forward to the May meeting for the full board to gather and deliberate.
As a College, we all care deeply about issues of climate change and its effect on our futures and that of the planet. The Board has been addressing climate change at each meeting this academic year, and is prepared to make significant commitments, as demonstrated by its December allocation of $12 million to the carbon neutrality of the BEP. They will continue to do so in May, addressing specific proposals related to renewables and greater energy efficiencies, green building standards, and a range of investment strategies.
Again, thank you for expressing your points of view peacefully. We can’t be sure that each one of you will be satisfied by our decisions, but I promise you we are listening very carefully.”
It is unclear how long the sit-in participants will remain on the 2nd floor of Parrish. They have a supply of food and water, chargers and extension cords, and have brought sleeping bags for when they turn in for the night. When asked how long they expect the sit-in to last, all MJ members had the same answer: “We have no plans to leave.”
Featured image courtesy of Anjali Cadambi ’14