BREAKING: President Hungerford Responds to Mountain Justice Sit-In

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.

A student signs into the sit-in.
A student signs into the sit-in.

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


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Allison Hrabar

Allison is double major in Political Science (Honors) and Film and Media Studies. When not working for The Daily Gazette, she cajoles people into watching the The Americans (Wednesdays at 10:00p.m. on FX).

17 comments

  1. 0
    Patrick. says:

    Investment and divestment are not symbolic. Investment helps a company and industry to grow.

    The board is actively helping the use of fossil fuels to continue and grow.

    The connection is strong.

  2. 0
    Patrick. says:

    When one is invested in fossil fuels, they benefit when more of them are burned. It’s in their best (short term) interest to support fossil fuels, even if that means voting for senators who promise to fight against fossil fuel competitors, namely, solar, wind, and other renewables.

    Make no mistake, the two are in direct competition with each other. If you support one, you harm the other.

    What Swarthmore’s board is doing with their investment in Fossil Fuels, is they are cheering them on. And they cannot cheer them on without doing a disservice to clean safe renewables, and in turn, to the future of the very students they claim to be investing in.

  3. 0
    Patrick. Guido is still learning to like me. says:

    When you are “Invested” in something, you do not want to see it’s downfall, because its downfall is your downfall.

    Fossil Fuels are very clearly causing significant issues and as a result are costing tax payers and raising insurance premiums. This will continue as the pollution gets worse and the climate become even more unstable.

    Apparently, the board is confused about whose future they are truly invested in.

  4. 0
    Mountain Justice = Stupid x 2 says:

    I really feel the need of establishing an “anti-MJ” group on campus. If there is such a group, I’m sure it will be more popular.

  5. 0
    alum says:

    you notice how there are few black and hispanic students in the sit in?

    always the “privileged” students who protested is what I remember from my time at Swat. I imagine the minority students are gracious (yes hard for millenials to hear such verbiage) to be attending and acknowledge such divestment would likely impact their scholarships

  6. 0
    Deborah Averill says:

    As an alum, class of 1969, I am thrilled to hear that students and some alumni are engaging in direct action regarding divestment. I am in agreement with everything in Fran Putnam’s post above, so I will not repeat that information here.

    It is important to me, as a life long Quaker, that the College live up to the Quaker values that it points out regularly. Working in whatever ways we can to deal with the issue of climate change fits in with the Quaker values I have lived with throughout my life.

    Deborah Seeley Averill, Class of 1969

  7. 0
    Jennifer Hendricks '93 says:

    Thank you to the students and alums who are taking this action. There has not been much to be proud of about Swarthmore lately; this development is a welcome change.

  8. 0
    mountain justice = stupid says:

    lol would mountain justice fuck off already you’re all idiots. We probably would have divested right now if it weren’t for you dumbasses

    1. 0
      Peter Murtha says:

      mountain justice = stupid

      It’s natural to get angry when one is frustrated and frustrated when one has no logical arguments to counter something one is opposed on a “gut” level, so we forgive you. Clearly, if you could explain how divestment of fossil fuels would have occurred at Swarthmore in the absence of Mountain Justice’s engagement, you would have done so.

      1. 0
        mountain justice = still stupid says:

        If I’m on the board I’m gonna have a way easier time feeling okay with divesting if the group of people yelling at me to divest isn’t full of mouth-breathing environmentalists who think they’re doing God’s work by expressing their moral outrage in the most puerile manner possible. This is the problem with your ilk; you’re so absolutely convinced in the righteousness of your actions that you fail to realize the methods you’re employing are actually counter-productive to your cause. Maybe one day when you outgrow your juvenile mentality you’ll see that throwing a hissy fit like this has never been a good way of effecting change. If you’re too lazy to do your school work and get tired of the Parrish scenery, I hear that Occupy Wallstreet in New York City has some nice benches for you to sit on. And I’m sure that Bill de Blasio would love to hear what you guys have to whine and scre – excuse me, say.

    2. 0
      i don't see the problem says:

      Damn…sorry for the chip on your shoulder. but anyways, don’t know what is so controversial about this.

      Swat should just divest from fossil fuel companies, shift those funds to other sectors, and start a fundraising campaign to offset any costs from divestment.

      Swarthmore divesting will largely be symbolic, but it’s the right thing to do. We need to put our money where our mouth is. For a school that touts and advertises social responsibility, the endowment is not a neutral force–it must be considered as a political tool for social change that is in line with the morals that the Swarthmore community values. Swatties are not so naive to believe that society is so simple.

      1. 0
        Myopic much? says:

        I know that was not meant to be funny, but it kind of was.

        That you don’t see what is controversial about a fundamental shift with hundreds of millions of dollars at stake is pretty amazing in its own right, and it takes a lot of gall to quite so blatantly ignore all of the numerous arguments lodged against MJ’s desired outcome since it started down a path of direct engagement and confrontation.

        First, there are those who either oppose or question MJ’s desired outcome on a pure numbers basis, setting morality aside. There are math questions, and since finance is squishy, they’re not wrong to question as the endowment is the means that keeps Swat running, keeps tuition assistance through scholarship grants flowing, keeps everyone paid, etc. I know that a few weeks ago a piece ran about how divesting is in fact possible from a finance perspective. And I don’t mean to suggest that the author was wrong. But it’s highly debatable. Just because one finance guy, no matter how good, says it’s possible, that does not all of a sudden make it the best idea.

        Then, there are objections on the basis that the efficacy of BDS is dubious. Essentially, the activist community thinks it is awesome and uses lots of anecdotal evidence, and the empirical community questions (a) causality, and (b) strength of causality should causality be present. Correlation does not equal causation. Sure, there are folks on either side that use other kinds of evidence, but for a gloss this’ll do just fine. Since many are skeptical that BDS is actually impactful on a large scale (let alone one college’s endowment), and since many question BDS’ impact in the most oft-pointed-to success case with Apartheid South Africa, it’s a big gamble to play around with the endowment on a strategy that might not even work.

        Next, there are folks that question, even if BDS does work and subject companies take note, whether the outcomes will be in line with what BDS supporters are hoping for. For instance, concepts like “clean coal” and “safe fracking” are floated all the time. It’s part scientific advancement, but mostly it’s branding, and if everyone buys in to new branding, you’ve had your impact, but it didn’t change anything. Again, a big risk to take on the endowment.

        Then, there are the slippery slope people. Frankly, I’ve never been a fan of the slippery slope, but I feel obliged to count it in. If MJ can push around the endowment, what’s to stop the next campus group from pushing to divest from any company that made donations to politicians seeking to restrict access to women’s health care, or any corporation seeking to implement right-to-work legislation, or to divest from any company headquartered in a country that bans wearing religious clothing in public? All of those might be worthy causes to some, worth fighting for for an even narrower subset, but the world won’t change if Swat just divests entirely from everything remotely objectionable. It reminds me of the Kick Coke campaign from the late mid 2000s, where it was all about Coca Cola being evil (with discrete examples), and a lot of the companies, schools, etc that “kicked” coke off campus went to a Pepsi contract as though Pepsi weren’t equally as evil in different ways.

        And then there are those who even might agree with MJ’s desired outcome, but disagree that starting a sit-in is just not the right way to deal with it. Tactics are debatable, you know.

        I don’t mean to suggest that others don’t have other arguments, but these are major strains I’ve seen since MJ ramped up. I think you can squarely count out those who mistake BDS for BDSM by accident and get confused (I saw that happen once, was quite funny). But the entire Swat community does not squarely support you or your actions. The entire community does not oppose you or your actions. The entire community is not ambivalent. Folks are peppered along the continuum.

        So for someone who is calling Swatties who disagree with you naive, I think you might need to check a mirror, since as the kettle, I think the pot is calling me black.

        1. 0
          I Don't Think That Means What You Think It Means ( User Karma: 56 ) says:

          @Myopic much?, next time you launch into a fairly condescending comment about how people are missing large parts of the fossil fuel divestment debate, you might want to make sure that the term you use repeatedly, BDS, isn’t used almost exclusively to talk about Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against the state of Israel.

  9. 0
    Fran Putnam 69 ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I applaud the students who have worked so patiently on this issue with the Board of Managers. The Board needs to divest, period. Although making the campus more sustainable is laudable and necessary, it is not sufficient. The divestment movement is growing rapidly and is on track to make a huge difference by stigmatizing the fossil fuel industries and forcing them to consider turning to renewable forms of energy.
    We know that 80% of the fossil fuels now in the ground need to stay there if we are to keep the earth below the crucial 2 degrees of warming towards which we are heading. This college’s managing board doesn’t get it, and we all, whether students, faculty, or alumni, need to convince them of the seriousness of the situation.
    I would suggest that the Board schedule an emergency meeting unless they want to see students in the administration building until May!

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