Yona: Time for Transparency

by Leehi Yona | 10/13/15 7:10pm

The Divest Dartmouth campaign has been active for three years now — it began back when I was a first-year. In that time, members of the Classes of 2013 to 2019 — not to mention alumni all the way back to the Class of 1967 — have been working tirelessly to disinvest the College’s endowment from 200 fossil fuel companies. Our motivations to get involved were simple — we came to the College to better our futures through education, yet investments that contribute to climate change pose a threat to our own futures and are unfair to future generations of Dartmouth students.

Since the group’s beginning, we have organized numerous events, one of which was the largest sustainability event in recent memory and included participation from more than 20 different student and Greek organizations. We launched a petition asking the College to divest from fossil fuel companies, which has garnered nearly 1,400 signatures, including hundreds of alumni. The Divest Dartmouth campaign group has visited College President Phil Hanlon during his weekly office hours more than 20 times, including yesterday. We have visited the investment office three times. And still, administrators have yet to give a public response to the campaign.

Like so many students striving to make the College on the Hill better, we have done our research. We have provided countless sources of peer-reviewed scientific data to support our claims about the urgency of climate change and have cited reports as evidence of Dartmouth’s financial responsibility to divest from these risky industries.

And yet, administrators appear to be secretive at best, and stalling at worst. The examples are plenty, but one of the most frustrating has been the wait for a report from the investor responsibility advisory committee. A decision cannot be made on fossil fuel divestment until the advisory committee — the moral voice advising the Trustees’ investment committee — produces a report. While it has not been made clear to us why a report is required when the advisory committee previously moved to disinvest from HEI Hotels and Resorts in 2012 following student pressure, we agreed, wanting our campaign to be a collaborative process rather than an antagonistic one.

It will now, however, be almost two years since we began this process with the advisory committee. We expected the report that Hanlon commissioned in Sept. 2014 to be made public by Dec. 2014. Since then, the deadline has been repeatedly postponed. Now, we have no indication of when the report will be published other than sometime this year. While we certainly look forward to it, we are, with good reason, concerned about the date the report will be released.

Members of the divestment campaign are, of course, not the only students who have struggled through opaque administrative policies, all the while following the process we have been told is in place to engage students like us who want to improve Dartmouth. We often see fellow students who are now also regulars in President Hanlon’s office — orthodox Jewish students working for adequate Kosher dining options, who have painstakingly investigated ways for the College to adhere better to kashrut Jewish dietary guidelines; international students shocked and frustrated by administrators’ decision to forego need-blind admissions without any consultation with students, international or otherwise. It is frustrating to be told at once that the College is our vibrant community made better by diversity and community service, all the while being stymied when trying to help make this campus better.

Bureaucratic red tape can be found in virtually any institution. We have, however, come to the alarming realization that students who have worked on this campaign since they were freshmen will graduate in less than eight months. How can it be that, in all this time, we have still not had an open conversation with administrators, if only as a first step toward making a decision about whether or not to divest? Divest Dartmouth was granted a meeting with two Trustees this past June, yet were told it was off the record. Don’t the very many community members, students, staff, faculty and alumni who have actively supported the campaign deserve an honest conversation?

We are growing tired of the College’s lack of transparency, but we are hopeful. We would like the College to engage in a frank, public discussion about fossil fuel divestment. We have peacefully held up our end of the discussion. It is time for administrators to do the same.

Correction appended: October 14, 2015

The original version of this column said that one of the most frustrating parts has been awaiting an opinion from the investor responsibility advisory committee. This has been corrected to show the wait has been for a report, not an opinion.

The original version also stated the reports the group gave to the College were on the effects of fossil fuel companies. The report was instead about the financial risk of these investments.