MHCJC Condemns the Board of Trustees’ Vote

The Mount Holyoke Climate Justice Coalition (MHCJC) is not surprised by the Board of Trustees’ decision to remain invested in fossil fuels. After four years, the Board has finally voted, but has failed to reflect the overwhelmingly clear desires of the Mount Holyoke community. Mount Holyoke should continue funding sustainable initiatives on campus, but these initiatives cannot be funded with the profits of environmental injustice. If we understand that destroying the planet is wrong, then we cannot profit from our planet’s continual destruction. MHCJC condemns the Board’s vote. Rejection denied.

The Board Failed to Prove That Divestment Would Hurt the Endowment

The Board has failed to prove that fossil free investment portfolios perform worse than fossil fuel portfolios. Time and time again the Board argues they “feel” that divestment will hurt the College’s returns. On April 13, 2017, members of MHCJC, faculty, and SGA met with President Sonya Stephens to discuss the Board’s vote. We asked President Stephens for portfolios and investment reports documenting how divestment would hurt Mount Holyoke’s endowment. We received no response and no follow-up after the meeting.

In fact, in spring 2016, Cambridge Associates, Mount Holyoke’s endowment manager, presented reports to the Faculty Ad-Hoc Committee showing that fossil free funds performed the same as funds invested in fossil fuels. MHCJC has also presented the Board with various studies and reports that substantiate our argument.

How and Why Divestment Will Not Hurt Financial Aid

Committing to fossil fuel divestment would require MHC to liquidate $337 million, nearly half of the $691 million commingled1 endowment. The “liquidated”2 endowment value would not disappear. Instead, the value would be reinvested in fossil free funds. If MHC commits to full divestment, investment managers would remove the money exposed to fossil fuels and reinvest in it in fossil free funds.  

Ultimately, MHCJC asks that the Board commit to divestment over a 5 year period, allowing our fund managers to leave fossil fuel funds as our contracts expire and reinvest that money when it is more financially lucrative to do so. We are not asking the College to divest overnight and lose a significant amount of money. Our investment managers work for us: it is their job to make sure our endowment continues to perform well after divestment.

The Board of Trustees threatens to reduce student financial aid and faculty salaries. However, every year the Board of Trustees designates how money to give to student financial aid and faculty salaries. Therefore, the Board of Trustees is the only group responsible for a decision to reduce aid in the event of divestment losses.

Moving Forward

Let’s not let this moment completely distract us. This vote is progress. A vote means that our campaign is able to escalate, it puts the Board of Trustees, unanimously, in direct contrast to the interests of CJC, the faculty, and the student body. This vote is completely opposed to the values that the student body, student government, and faculty who voted in support of fossil fuel divestment. When people in power start telling you “no”, that’s how you know you’re onto something. Take the anger that comes with this disappointing decision and show up, speak up, and disrupt. Lead with us.

1. Mount Holyoke’s endowment is completely invested in commingled funds. Commingled funds are funds made of multiple assets, some of which are fossil fuel assets. If a commingled fund contains any trace of fossil fuel assets, the fund is considered to be “exposed to fossil fuels.”
2. The Board’s use of the word liquidation implies that MHC would sell current funds and then reinvest that money in other funds. MHC will not lose half of its endowment value if we divest. Liquidation is not about losing money; it is about moving it.

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