Today, Swarthmore students are voting on Mountain Justice (MJ)’s referendum for partial divestment from fossil fuels. Though the referendum has already captured the attention of the student body, it’s not certain what influence its outcome will have on the Board of Managers meeting this weekend.
Mountain Justice argues that the new partial divestment proposal was crafted with feedback from administrators and the Board’s concerns in mind, but it’s unclear if the Board will treat it differently than the divestment proposals they’ve rejected before.
“Mountain Justice’s present proposal is similar to ones that have been made before, so it does not represent a change from what they’ve asked for in the past,” wrote Vice President of Finance, Greg Brown, in an email. “Representatives from Mountain Justice have offered partial divestment as a strategy in conversations that I’ve had with them over the past years, and we have been clear that this strategy would not be effective relative to our portfolio. The Board’s 2013 and 2015 decisions on divestment from fossil fuels followed extensive discussion, and there are no plans to revisit this decision.”
Additionally, Brown wrote, very few of Swarthmore’s investments are in the separately managed accounts that MJ’s referendum wants to divest from, and the proposal doesn’t account for the complexity of the college’s investments.
However, Mountain Justice argues that the referendum addresses the main concern the Board had with previous divestment proposals: that it would require the College to change fund managers.
“In meetings with us and President Smith, the only objection that Greg Brown presented to our proposal was that it would be morally inconsistent to only partially divest. He has not provided any reason why this would not be feasible,” wrote MJ member Stephen O’Hanlon ‘18 in an email. “We all deserve serious engagement with this issue and we hope that if this referendum passes the Board seriously addresses it at their meeting this weekend.”
Furthermore, even if the student body approves the referendum, the results of Student Government Organization (SGO) referenda are non-binding—the referendum doesn’t hold the SGO or the Board of Managers to any decision or action.
Accordingly, student government referenda have a mixed track record at Swarthmore. In 1994, 61% of students voted to fly an American flag above Parrish, and a similar proportion voted to have greek organizations admit students of all genders in 2013. Additionally, 90% of students opposed changes to senior week in a 2014 SGO poll. Of these, only the 1994 flag referendum—which the Administration had already supported—was acted on.
Nonetheless, Mountain Justice is committed to pressuring the Board to consider its proposal if the referendum is approved.
“I’m relatively confident that we’re going to have a majority for yes,” MJ member Aru Shiney-Ajay ‘20 said. “I think we anticipate it being a slightly longer fight, but we do hope that this semester, with everything that is happening politically, we can move folks to divestment. I think that the political climate has put us into a situation where it’s more urgent than ever.”