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DivestKenyon protests as spring board meeting approaches

Group will present the board with a petition demanding the College divest from fossil fuels.

Students will demonstrate from 5-7 p.m. this evening in the Peirce Dining Hall atrium, urging the College to divest from fossil fuels and pledge to never invest in private prisons. The rally, organized by DivestKenyon — a group that advocates divestment from fossil fuels and private prisons — will involve speeches by members of various social justice organizations, live music by Kenyon a capella groups and the recitation of pro-divestment chants. 

The demonstration’s intended audience is the Board of Trustees, which is gathering on campus today and tomorrow for their annual spring meeting. Joseph Lipscomb ’87, the chair of the budget, finance and audit trustee committee and vice chair of the executive trustee committee, is meeting with the Kenyon Democrats to discuss investments at 4 p.m.  today in the Alumni Dining Room. He will emerge from this meeting into the student-organized protest.

“The point is that it’ll be too big to miss and to show that students care about fossil fuel divestment and not investing in private prisons,” Matt Meyers ’17, a leader of the DivestKenyon movement, said.

During the meeting with Lipscomb, representatives of DivestKenyon also plan to deliver a petition demanding that Kenyon remove investments from the top 200 fossil fuel companies and formally agree to not invest in the top two private prison corporations, the GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America. The petition had received more than 790 signatures as of Wednesday evening; twenty-two of these signatures are professors and administrators.

Following the protest, approximately 50 students will camp out overnight on Ransom Lawn in front of Peirce.

“All school rules will be followed,” Katherine King ’17, another leader of the DivestKenyon movement, said. “There’s going to be opportunities there for people to learn more about divestment.”

DivestKenyon members presented their proposal to divest from fossil fuels last October during a meeting with the Investment Committee.

Lipscomb, who is a co-founder and partner at Arborview Capital LLC, an organization that invests in clean energy and sustainability companies, attended the meeting. He said he appreciates students’ enthusiasm about climate change, but does not feel divestment is a productive approach to solving the issue.

“I just don’t think that we’re at a point where that’s feasible today for a small endowment like Kenyon,” Lipscomb said. “We basically have $360 million of investable assets.”

Approximately seven percent of the College’s endowment is invested in the energy industry, according to Vice President for Finance Todd Burson. CornerStone Partners, the College’s endowment manager, declined to comment for this article, but Burson agreed to send questions from the Collegian to the firm.

“They will not be able to secure a list of all of the individual investments, as some investment managers keep that information confidential,” Burson wrote in an email to the Collegian.

“What we have been told is that, in 2016, we had about five percent of our endowment invested in fossil fuel infrastructure and another three percent in fossil fuel companies,” Meyers wrote in an email to the Collegian. “If we were to divest from fossil fuels, the board and our investments managers would make a plan to negatively screen fossil fuel investments out of our investment portfolio.”

Meyers said this does not mean the College would lose eight percent of its endowment: The money would be reallocated to other investments.

The Collegian was unable to verify these numbers, but President Sean Decatur stated that the College does invest in some funds that have holdings in the fossil fuel industry.

Lipscomb supports investing in green initiatives rather than pulling money out of fossil fuel investments. Despite the board’s decision not to discuss divestment, they will examine future investments in environmental initiatives.

A group of students and student interns working with Director of Green Initiatives David Heithaus presented suggestions for a “Green Revolving Fund,” (GRF) which would set aside funds for green initiatives across campus, to Decatur and senior faculty Monday, April 10. The board will not discuss this during their meetings, according to Decatur.

“The next step is for us to refine the proposal’s details — which projects to pursue … as well as a plan to finance them,” Decatur wrote in an email to the Collegian.

Heithaus does not see divestment and the proposed GRF as mutually exclusive projects. “Divestment would be one of many ways money could be raised or allocated to seed a GRF,” Heithaus said.

King and Meyers want to emphasize that DivestKenyon’s mission is linked with a larger national divestment movement aimed at changing the behavior of corporations.

“The purpose of divestment is to stigmatize these corporations,” King said. “You do divestment in conjunction with major movements. We’re doing fossil fuels and private prison divestments because that’s what … the energy is building around.”

Burson noted that Investment Committee members have discussed green initiatives at length.

“In April 2013, a group of students met with the Investment Committee to express their desire for divestment of fossil fuel companies,” Burson said. “[The Committee] decided at the end that it would not be appropriate to divest but that the students and the College should continue its focus on making structural changes on the campus.”

Spurred by this conversation, the College spent $7.5 million on campus-wide energy conservation efforts to reduce use of water, gas and electricity. The College also began to compost food waste and require that recent building projects are LEED certified, meaning they use fewer resources and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Emily Birnbaum

Emily Birnbaum is News Editor of the Collegian.

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