Bottom & links
ExxonMobil synthesizes polyethylene plastics from petroleum, Mont Belvieu, Texas.
THE PURPOSE OF DIVESTMENT
SOCIAL OSTRACISM & PUBLIC HUMILIATION
Jerry Nelson, '65
2 June 15, 2935 words
"My college degree was the passport into a wild and vivid life of the mind, and
into a full participation in the problems of my civilization."
--James A. Michener '29, 1986.
Rogers and Hammerstein turned Mitchener's "Tales of the South Pacific" into the
Broadway musical and movie "South Pacific". "Sayonara", a 1957 film dealing
squarely with racial prejudice, was one of many later successes. Michener left
most of his estate and the copyrights of his books to Swarthmore College. Global
warming challenges civilization. Would Michener make the same choice today?
"Quakers played prominent roles in almost every major reform movement in American
history, including abolition [of black slavery], African-American history, Indian
rights, women's rights, prison reform, humane treatment of the mentally ill, and
--Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore College
College has failed to respond to calls for divestment with an absence
of dialog that puts stress on our sense of community. In failing
to divest, the College has justified its decision to continue
committing evil by saying it is following the rules. This touches
a nerve for many older alumni, whose Swarthmore education was guided by
a generation of intellectuals deeply concerned with the nature of evil
in civilized societies. The stress placed on the College as a
community, and this departure from our historic concern with social
justice and moral courage, suggest the slow emergence of structural
problems in the governance of the College. The structural
problems are twofold: a Board of Managers that grew too large and
arrogated unto itself too many responsibilities, and a President too
weak, with few rights and prerogatives in her exclusive domain, other
than endlessly raising money whose control rests entirely (investment),
or largely, with the Board of Managers.
INTRODUCTION: LOCKED-IN AGAINST DIVESTMENT
Aronoff '14 saw it firsthand in 2010: mountain tops removed and dumped
into valleys to get at coal. After destroying one Delaware-sized
section of Appalachia at a time, burning the coal then destroys the
rest of the planet. She came back from her freshman year
introduction to what social conscience means at Swarthmore to found
Mountain Top Justice (go to swatmj.org,
Swarthmore Mountain Justice), and Swarthmore College launched the
fossil fuel divestment movement that spread to 200 colleges by
2013. Bill McKibben's 350.org (go to 350.org ) helped swatmj.org create http://gofossilfree.org/usa/ . Fossil Free supports activists and counts 500 campaigns world-wide (2015). Swatmj.org remains the premier source of information on what Swarthmore students are doing at Swarthmore.
After five years
of nation-leading protest and a sit-in running 24/7 for 32 days, after
a faculty resolution (14Apr2015) to begin divestment, the Swarthmore
College Board of Managers refused (4May2015) to make any start towards
divestment. Why did they do this, and what do we do now?
A MEMBER OF THE CORPORATE BOARD
What do the
Chairman of the Board at The Travelers Companies, the Chairman of the
Board at Merck & Company, the Chairman of the Board at Nestle, the
Chairman of the Board at PepsiCo, the Chairman of the Board at
International Business Machines, the Chairman of the Board at Xerox
Corporation, the Chairman of the Board at Medtronic, and the Chairman
of the Board at Johnson & Johnson Corporation all have in common?
Answer: they all accepted invitations to join the Board of Directors of Exxon-Mobil, the petroleum and gas company.
There is nothing
to be gained at Nestle food, PepsiCo drinks, Xerox office product, IBM
business machines, etc., from global warming. Of course, after
their move, every director in this group is pledged to foster his new
company's drive to find and extract upstream fossil fuel resources, to
build down stream refineries, and to perfect transportation systems
between the two. And every director will become personally
wealthy doing so. These men have openly chosen to grow wealthy
doing evil. We are all civil here, all civilized. How can this be?
HUMANS ARE SOCIAL CREATURES, WE SOCIALIZE to the NORM
It was a step up
socially for all these men to switch their careers to growing wealthy
while wrecking the planet's climate. The invitations to do so
were all accepted. As so many times before, as with torture at
the American Psychological Association, http://rt.com/usa/254677-apa-psychologists-cia-torture/ ; as with American doctors injecting blacks with syphilis in the Tuskegee program that ran until 1972, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuskegee_syphilis_experiment
, no one in these men's chosen social milieu spoke up about morality or
evil. They smiled and offered congratulations. It was a social
step up, and each man man gladly took it.
As a student at
Swarthmore, I was introduced to the work of Robert Jay Lifton, still
active today. He notes that man is a social creature, and, if we
are to form societies at all, it is natural that we should "socialize
to the norm". **Divestment seeks to change the precept of that norm.**
Arguing **global warming science**
with these ExxonMobil corporate directors labels you an outsider who
cannot help them navigate their own lives. It is pointless to
protest in front of their offices -- protestors are certainly **not**
the stars by which they chart their social position, they won't
even talk to you. On issues that transcend everything that any of
these men's companies will ever do, not one of them will take bold
action or show bold vision. "Bold" means "different from
the group" and "different from the group" violates accepted, gracious,
community-sensitive social behavior. Only that behavior produces
an invitation to join the next board. We socialize to the norm.
I have seen
similar socialization to group norms in academia. An emeritus
professor can face no financial insecurity, can face no career damage
for taking bold action or expressing a bold vision. Retired from
a competitive career and with enough time to notice gross social
injustices all around him, he continues not to rock the boat that now
drifts to the end of life with only him upon it.
navigating their own "socialization" for the first time are vital to
any academic community. The first reaction of students to the
world we are handing them is precious. In my experience, someone
pointedly not curious to speak to students about their new, tentative
world views is hiding some kind of failure he remains reluctant to
reconsider, is hiding from possible regret over the bargains he struck
to drive his own life's journey. Global warming problems
are too big for any single one of us. Say you did your best, urge
them to do better, and pass the torch -- do not shut the door on the
choices memory will play back to each of us at the end of life's
corporate world pushes on. Since pushing global warming past
points of no return seems like madness to begin with, perhaps
psychiatry can help us understand the evil good men do. Let's try
Robert Jay Lifton again:
Dr. Lifton, what are the parallels that you draw between ... nuclear
weapons and the climate justice movement today?
LIFTON: The parallel that’s all important is that both really involve
the destruction of the human habitat. So I call the work "mind and
habitat." Habitat is that part of nature which we require to really
keep going as a human species. And mind is what we are given in an
evolutionary way, it’s the hope that we have for combating climate
change and the nuclear threat as well. They both bring forth
apocalyptic images of destroying the entire human habitat and
interfering with the future of the human race.
As far as I
know, Swarthmore Board members have never articulated this larger
vision for Man. People do not solve problems they cannot see.
WE DIVEST FOR LEADERSHIP IN THE LARGER SOCIETY
The divestment movement's core value to society is ostracism and humiliation.
movement seeks to destroy the social norm to which these ExxonMobil
corporate board members conformed when they made their moves to
Exxon. That move is not a step up when your invitations get
cancelled, when people turn and walk away after learning your
name. Swarthmore Board members have not seen the need to
humiliate those who invest in, work for, and serve fossil fuel
companies like ExxonMobil. The Swarthmore Board will give us a
Green Fund for our alumni donations if that is what we alumni believe
in. I imagine the Board is also ordering 1500 RAVPower folding
chargers to hand out to students, so students who wish to express their
beliefs in solar power can hang their iPhones out a sunny window for
recharging. After his 3-year term, every exiting Board of
Managers Chairman will now get a free Prius with the vanity plate
"SWATTIE" so that the whole world will see our belief in electric
vehicles. Remember to turn off the lights when you leave the room.
STRUCTURAL PROBLEMS WITH THE OFFICE OF PRESIDENT
left, "driven by both personal and professional desires", such as
spending more time with "our closest family members." We wish her
husband well with health issues. Nevertheless, it remains the
case that Rebecca Chopp left leadership at one educationsl institution
to accept leadership at another educational institution, just not this
At a Class of
1964 50th Reunion dinner, Chopp was asked whether the College would
divest from fossil fuels. There had been four years of student
protests by then, there would later be faculty resolutions on the
matter, she was at the key reunion for any alumni class, their fiftieth
one. The person the College chooses to interact with these three
pillars of our community -- students, faculty, alumni -- as the
personification of the College is our College President. There
are good reasons why we hand this responsibility to an individual, not
to a committee.
College divest? It was for the Board of Managers to decide.
Rebecca Chopp deferred to a member of the Board of Managers standing at
her side. This is an emasculated Office of the President.
The Board is
protecting our wealth with stocks analogous to ExxonMobil. In
insisting on one industrial sector, the Board acts as if they know
whether particular stocks will go up or down and must remain in the
portfolio, while paying millions of dollars to over 80 investment
management companies to do this for them.
HOW CAN GOOD PEOPLE PRACTICE EVIL?
Board of Managers has codified its immorality. This
self-appointed body is not shy about pointing out their adherence to
their self-declared policies for asset management. When others
ask for the better ethics, better morality, broader vision, and climate
justice which are our College's cultural heritage, we are told the
Board is doing the right thing, and everyone must understand that the
Board cannot do any other thing. The Board leaves the
meeting room, refuses to talk to anyone in the hall, and issues another
press announcement declaring that investment guidelines, which have
stated since 1991 that the “Investment Committee manages the endowment
to yield the best long term financial results, rather than to pursue
other social objectives” have now been faithfully followed. There
can be no divestment, and evil will continue to flow from the good men
and women of the Board. The banality of evil is driven by those
who do not see beyond the rules they follow.
THE SOCIAL JUSTICE RESOLUTION
RESOLVED: It is the sense of the College Community that final decisions
social justice reside with the President.
You are a
Swattie, you can read! This resolution does not say the President
decides anything. Nobody decides anything at Swarthmore, we talk
it to death first.
with the community, the President comes to personify and symbolize that
community for all of us. The President will talk to everyone
about divestment and tell us what she hears. She will inevitably
find herself shopping ideas across the community, balancing the
suggestions and criticisms of one group against another, and
crystallizing it all for the choices we must make and their costs.
talking to everyone is better than a Board who won't discuss change
with anyone. We have a President because we need the
personification, the symbol, and the voice for an entire community,
something that the human group-social behavior
of committees can not usually provide. The President can best
express the sense of the whole community to our community.
Resolved: It is the sense of the College Community that final
decisions of social justice reside with the President.
The term of
office for the Refusnik Chairman of the Board of Managers has come to
an end (May 2015), and his successor has been announced. In the
letter to the community -- the students, the faculty, the alumni --
about the succession, no mention of global warming or divestment is
made. There it is, the hard little tumor in this campus's
cultural heritage. You know the Social Justice Resolution must be
petitioned and passed. We all know to warmly welcome Swarthmore's
new, incoming College President, Valerie Smith, former Dean of College
at Princeton, starting here 1 July 2015.
THE DIVERSITY of the BOARD of MANAGERS
managers can do working in committee is very different from what single
presidents can do working over their own signature. Greater
diversity will probably come to the Swarthmore Board of Managers, where
today, one-third of the members are white, male, and have older
graduation years than 2000, where most members are in the business of
making money: finance, marketing, business consulting. But the
usual concepts of "diversity" cannot change the camel into a horse ("A
camel is a horse designed by a committee").
might want some Board members who aren't good at reading body language
and who think socializing yourself to any group norm is a waste of
time, time better spent nailing down the truth and imposing a
logically-consistent scheme upon some complex problem. Try three
high-functioning autistics for diversity on the Board. If you are
tired of being stuck in the same response to the same questions and
would like to turn on a dime and seize fleeting opportunities, put a
dyslexic on the Board. If you think you are beginning to look bad
because of your manifest inability to grasp the enormous sweep of the
globalized changes coming down upon us in our Globalized Century, put
someone touched by bipolar disorder on the Board.
I am not holding
my breath. In any self-perpetuating, self-appointed group,
everyone walks into the room wearing the same striped pants.
AN INTERPLAY OF POWER ALL CAN SEE
Board has made up a rule, said it will follow it forever, makes few
changes and brooks little discussion. A power center almost
beyond the reach of those whose well-being are its justification for
existence has grown too isolated.
THE "PRO FORMA RESIGNATIONS" RESOLUTION
RESOLVED: It is the sense of the College Community that, effective at his/her present term's end,
every member of the Board of Managers will hand in his/her resignation to the President.
The President will publish the Board's list of suggested next-session members for community comment
and provide her decision on the Board's "Manager's List" 30 days later.
serve four-year terms; 3-term (12 year) appointments are common.
Pro forma resignations and a "Manager's List" of successors that
receives pro forma Presidential approval after 30 days exists for one
clear, primary purpose: community transparency. Transparency
invites open comment. On the Web page carrying the
Manager's List there must follow a community comment section. For
Board Members proposed to the community for second and third terms, the
community will have thanks, good wishes and suggestions.
will drive engagement. Managers who have flown in for a Board
meeting will add an extra night and take students to dinner. We
want every student to become an alum, and learning how much work and
money it takes to run this place can't come too early. Students
do not get paid to come here. Alumni do not get paid for
volunteer work for the Board. We all know what we want, and a Pro
Forma Resignations list will provide a community Commons for
celebrating what we have achieved. As silly as it seems
before we ever had them, Pro Forma Resignations and a Manager's List
will become a uniquely Swarthmorean celebration, born in a darker place
on our journey long forgotten.
The essence of
any elite college is not the size of endowment, not a rush to provide
country-club facilities that lure students. Swarthmore is a top
national institution because of faculty excellence, student excellence,
and the intense interaction of the two that drives both higher
still. Swarthmore adds to this the ideal of finding your own
concept of social justice and an Inner Light to guide you in remaining
true to it, true to yourself, and true to a community that will always
want to see you succeed. Our Quakers left the Philadelphia Yearly
Meeting, formed the Hicksite branch of the Religious Society of
Friends, and gave us Swarthmore College. In the Century of Global
Crisis, in an age where too many policy makers and political leaders
have never seen a problem they could not solve by killing something, it
is time for this community to try a little harder to give those who
founded it what they expected of us.
resource & document list
Resource 1, Petition: http://swatmj.org/petition/
Resource 2, Two Plans for college donations.
Resource 3, YOU ARE HERE: "We Divest for Social Ostracism and Public Humiliation"
Resource 4, document: "Why We Can Never Divest Again
document "Fossil Fuel Divestment FAQ"
Resource 6, document "Swarthmore Chooses Excellence in the 1800s.