Bottom & links
ExxonMobil polyethylene plant in Mont Belvieu, Texas nears completion in 2014.  
   ExxonMobil synthesizes polyethylene plastics from petroleum, Mont Belvieu, Texas. 

                                                           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

CONCLUSION: The 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.


Swattie Kate 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, Swarthmore Mountain Justice), and Swarthmore College launched the fossil fuel divestment movement that spread to 200 colleges by 2013.  Bill McKibben's (go to )  helped create .   Fossil Free supports activists and counts 500 campaigns world-wide (2015). 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?


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?


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, ; as with American doctors injecting blacks with syphilis in the Tuskegee program that ran until 1972, , 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.

Students 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 journey.

But the 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:

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Dr. Lifton, what are the parallels that you draw between ... nuclear weapons and the climate justice movement today?

ROBERT JAY 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.


The divestment movement's core value to society is ostracism and humiliation.

The divestment 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.


Rebecca Chopp 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 one.

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.

Would the 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.


The Swarthmore 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.


          RESOLVED: It is the sense of the College Community that final decisions of
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.

By consulting 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.

A President 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.


What skilled 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").

Perhaps you 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.


The present 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.


         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.

Board members 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.

Transparency 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:
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
Resource 5,
document "Fossil Fuel Divestment FAQ"
Resource 6, document "Swarthmore Chooses Excellence in the 1800s.