Divest Dartmouth joins multi-school fund

by Kelsey Flower | 2/24/15 7:02pm

Earlier this year, student-run group Divest Dartmouth joined with divestment groups from 16 other colleges to create the Multi-School Fossil Free Divestment Fund. The fund aims to puts pressure on the universities involved to divest from fossil fuels by collecting tax-deductible donations that will be given to the universities only if they divest their investments in fossil fuels by Dec. 31, 2017, according to the Fund.

After that date, all donations will be split between schools that have already divested away from fossil fuels.

Divesting investments in fossil fuels has two steps, according to the website. Universities must both immediately freeze any new investment in fossil fuel companies and divest within five years from current holdings in these companies.

When alumni donate, the money is put in a growing portfolio for each college that is managed by an asset management firm, Connor Clark ’17, who is both a part of Divest Dartmouth and Divest Fund’s advisory council, said. The money accrues interest until a school decides to divest, and then it is handed over when it meets the Divest Fund’s requirements.

Divest Dartmouth alumni coordinator Morgan Curtis ’14 said that joining the Divest Fund has been an exciting way for Divest Dartmouth to engage with alumni in a new way.

“So many alumni quite often they feel like they’re not on campus or in the loop,” Curtis said. “The fund is such an interesting step because it does give alumni that power and that voice to put their money where their mouth is.”

Curtis pulled Dartmouth into the Divest Fund. She is currently also serving as a member of the Divest Fund advisory council and is in charge of media relations and outreach for the Fund.

Curtis thinks that divestment is a powerful moral tool that the institution can use to share its beliefs.

“I see divestment as such a crucial statement that Dartmouth College sees the injustice and the deep problematic impacts of climate change, that we as an institution believe in stepping towards the right side of history,” Curtis said.

The Divest Fund is an important next step in influencing college divestment, Divest Fund advisory council member Rajesh Kasturirangan said.

“Students are limited. They are doing fantastic work, but they don’t have the money,” Kasturirangan said. “Alums are the perfect community to drive divestment. They span generations, they have influence and power, they have their own money but they can also influence the institutions they belong to. Getting alumni to work with students is the best way to drive this.”

Clark agrees the Divest Fund is an important step because it creates a platform for alumni and donors to make divestment happen, Clark said.

Dartmouth Divest puts a constant pressure on the administration to divest. “This fund is another leverage point, another incentive to have the school ultimately divest,” Clark said.

Perri Haser ’17, a member of Divest Dartmouth, said that relative to a lot of schools, Divest Dartmouth is fairly early in its campaign.

The group has been in communication with the advisory committee on investor responsibility, an impartial committee, which last September College President Phil Hanlon commissioned to write up a report on divestment.

The report is supposed to consider the pros and cons of divestment as a whole and its effect on Dartmouth specifically, Clark said.

The administration has been helpful so far, Haser said.

“They are at least indulging us in asking the questions that they need to ask before they can make this kind of decision,” Haser said.

The process, however, has gone much slower than Divest Dartmouth would have liked, Clark said, adding that the results of the report will eventually be presented to Hanlon and the Board of Trustees, who will then make the final decision about divestment.

One of the things that will be taken into consideration is that there is this multi-school divestment fund, Clark said. He said he thinks that both “alumni support for divestment” and the “monetary benefit to ultimately divesting” will weigh in as pros.

So far, there have been 22 individual donors to Dartmouth through the Divest Fund, almost all of which have been accompanied by messages of support, Curtis said.

Georges Dyer ’01 was the first Dartmouth alumnus to donate to the Divest Fund. Dyer is the principal of the Intentional Endowments Network and helped develop and support the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment network.

Dyer said that his work in the related fields of endowment investment and sustainability made him familiar with the context of the issue. When he saw the multi-school approach, he thought it made sense and was interesting so he decided to donate.

“My motivation around donating was to send a message to alumni that this is an important issue the College should be treating as a top priority,” Dyer said.

He said that regardless of whether Dartmouth follows through and divests by the set date or not, the movement is still important because it is a “fruitful process” that generates educational opportunities for students, administrators, trustees and faculty about risks that current society is facing in terms of climate change.

Dave Goodrich ’74, who worked in climate-related fields for his entire career, is another alumni donor who has been involved with Divest Dartmouth since before it became a part of the multi-school fund.

Goodrich said that before this larger group was formed, one way he tried to influence Dartmouth through Divest Dartmouth was to write a letter to the advisory committee on investor responsibility that Hanlon organized to advise them on matters of investment.

He said that his letter was acknowledged with a response, but said that ultimately divestment issues were Hanlon’s decision.

Goodrich was also part of a team, along with Curtis, Kasturirangan and MIT Ph.D. student Geoffrey Supran, that wrote an op-ed for the Boston Globe about the divest fund. While the op-ed was not published, the Boston Globe released an article about divestment initiatives on college campuses, including the Divest Fund.

“Our intention was to spread the word. We feel like this is one way we can influence not just Dartmouth but a lot of other influential schools to take up the cause and perhaps a way to gain a certain amount of leverage at our own school,” Goodrich said.

Goodrich, after looking at climate data throughout his entire career, thinks the issue is pressing.

“I see the damage that climate change is doing now. This is not something for our grandchildren,” Goodrich said. “This is something that we can do something about and there’s not necessarily all the time in the world to do it.”