Check out this news from Middlebury College in Vermont!
In an email to students, faculty, and staff, President Ronald Liebowitz announced that Middlebury College will begin a formal process to look into the possibility of divesting its $900 million endowment from fossil fuels.
Bill McKibben, a scholar-in-residence at Middlebury college, and the founder of 350.org, an international climate change campaign that is helping lead a new nationwide fossil fuel divestment effort, issued the following statement upon hearing the news:
“President Liebowitz used just the right tone and took precisely the right step. It won’t be easy to divest, but I have no doubt that Middlebury–home of the first environmental studies dept in the nation–will do the right thing in the right way. It makes me proud to be a Panther.”
In his email, Pres. Liebowitz acknowledged that approximately 3.6 percent of the college’s $900 million endowment is invested in fossil fuel companies (roughly $32 million dollars). This is the first time the college has disclosed how much of its endowment is invested in the industry.
Over the coming months, the administration will work with student groups, experts in endowment management, veteran investment managers, and Bill McKibben, to discuss the divestment.
“I, along with my administrative colleagues and fellow board members, look forward to engaging the community on an issue of great interest and import to the College and its many constituents,” wrote President Liebowitz.
The announcement is a step forward for students, who have been working all fall to convince the administration to consider divestment.
“We are excited to see the college commit to continuing the conversation about divestment begun this fall,” said Greta Neubauer, one of the organizers of Divest for Our Future, a student group on campus. “We are also appreciative of the work they have done to provide greater transparency and believe that this is a positive step. “We look forward to continuing this community-wide dialogue and working to make fossil fuel divestment a reality at Middlebury.”
The efforts at Middlebury are part of a new, nationwide divestment effort called “Go Fossil Free” which is being coordinated by a coalition of groups including 350.org, Energy Action Coalition, Responsible Endowments Coalition, the Sierra Student Coalition, and As You Sow. So far, Unity College and Hampshire College have met the campaign’s demand to divest from the 200 corporations that hold nearly all the world’s fossil fuel reserves.
McKibben and 350.org spent the last month building support for the effort with a 21-city “Do The Math” tour that connected the dots between extreme weather, climate change, and the fossil fuel industry. The tour sold-out nearly every venue it visited — including the Ira Allen Chapel at UVM, during a dress rehearsal this October — reaching more than 25,000 people across the country.
McKibben founded 350.org with six Middlebury College students in 2007, so the news from the college has special resonance for the organization. “We came up with the idea for our first national campaign sitting around the dining hall at Middlebury,” said May Boeve, 350.org’s Executive Director (Class of ‘06.5). “It’s great to have come full circle and see Middlebury helping lead this global effort to take on the fossil fuel industry.”
The Middlebury announcement could have ramifications beyond the college because the college’s endowment is managed by Investure, a firm that also helps manage the endowments of a number of other colleges, including Trinity College, Smith College, Barnard College, and major foundations, such as the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Carnegie Endowment. Students at Middlebury have already connected with students at other Investure managed schools to discuss how to work together to push the firm in a more sustainable direction.
“Every college in the country should be, at least as transparent as Middlebury about how much money they have wrapped up in the fossil fuel industry,” said Dan Apfel, Executive Director of the Responsible Endowments Coalition. “Students deserve to know how much of their education is being paid for by companies that are wrecking the planet.”
The announcement will also help build momentum for other fossil fuel divestment campaigns across the state of Vermont. This November, students at the University of Vermont asked their board of trustees to divest its $346 million endowment from the oil industry. The Vermont Public Interest Research group is currently analyzing what percentage of Vermont’s pension fund is invested in fossil fuel companies. Two state legislators, Rep. Kesha Ram (D-Burlington) and state Sen.-elect Chris Bray (D-Addison) — who both serve on the UVM board of trustees — are currently discussing divestment policies with the State Treasurer’s office.
Full Text of the Letter from President Liebowitz:
Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,
This fall, several student groups on campus have raised questions surrounding the College’s endowment, specifically with regard to holdings related to fossil fuels. One group, the Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing (ACSRI), has been meeting regularly with Patrick Norton, the College’s Vice President for Finance and Treasurer, and one of its members attends Investment Committee meetings of the Board of Trustees. Other groups, some part of a national movement on college campuses, have also engaged the College administration and community, hoping to learn more about the College’s endowment, how it is invested, and whether we should divest of our investments in fossil fuel companies.
As an academic institution, the College administration and the Board of Trustees are interested in engaging our students’ interest in the endowment. Such engagement, however, must be serious and be based in responsible inquiry and research. It must also be respectful and inclusive of all opinions. A look at divestment must include the consequences, both pro and con, of such a direction, including how likely it will be to achieve the hoped-for results and what the implications might be for the College, for faculty, staff, and individual students.
With input from several groups on campus, including ACSRI, we will set up and host panel discussions with experts in endowment management and divestment. It will include, for example, representatives from the firm that manages our endowment (Investure), veteran investment managers, and our own Scholar-in-Residence, Bill McKibben.
The management of Middlebury’s endowment is complex and has evolved over time. We are part of a consortium with other colleges and foundations whose pooled resources are invested in a number of “fund-of-funds” and therefore the College is very limited in either selecting or deleting any particular investment within its overall portfolio. Despite such limitations, the Investment Committee, the Administration, and Investure have been working with ACSRI to ensure that socially responsible investing is discussed and reviewed as a regular and ongoing part of the investment process. We have instructed Investure and the managers they engage to follow the environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) principles that align investors with broader objectives of one’s mission and society at-large (see: http://www.middlebury.edu/media/view/437641/original/proxy_voting_priciples.pdf )
At the same time, the primary fiduciary responsibility of our investment committee is to maximize its investment returns to support vital programs including financial aid and staff and faculty compensation, while managing risk. Currently, the endowment finances approximately 20 percent of the College’s annual operating cost—approximately $50 million this past year. It is vitally important to understand both the risks and rewards of one’s investment decisions as we are the stewards not only of the endowment for the current generation of Middlebury students, faculty, and staff, but for future generations as well.
At present, approximately 3.6 percent of the College’s $900 million endowment is directly invested in companies related to fossil fuels. For those interested in the amount directly invested in defense and arms manufacturing, the share of our endowment in those companies is less than 1 percent—approximately 0.6 percent. I have included an explanatory note at the end of this communication to provide information on the methodology used to determine these percentages. I encourage you to contact Patrick Norton (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have any questions about this methodology or about the College’s endowment.
I, along with my administrative colleagues and fellow board members, look forward to engaging the community on an issue of great interest and import to the College and its many constituents. I will be sending more information on the first panel discussion when plans are finalized.
Notes on the reporting of Investure and Non-Investure Managed Funds
Investure Managed Funds:
Data on investments in fossil fuel and arms for Investure-managed funds (the “Investure Funds’) were provided by Investure, LLC (“Investure”) to Middlebury College upon request and only covers the underlying long holdings of the Investure Funds in those circumstances when information was available as described below. This information is presented on a lagged-basis, and does not include any underlying holdings in a client’s legacy fund portfolio. Moreover, this information is not based on a comprehensive review but rather is based solely on available information on the underlying long positions of the Investure Funds of which Investure has actual knowledge from third-party managers and/or reporting on the exposure of those underlying positions.
As a result, underlying positions may be missing from this analysis that, if included, could be material to an understanding of the College’s portfolio’s underlying positions in fossil fuels and arms. In those cases where Investure had actual knowledge of underlying holdings from managers and/or reporting on an Investure Fund’s exposure, Investure utilized a combination of third-party classifications, at its discretion, including but not limited to certain Standard Industrial Codes and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, to help identify investments in fossil fuel and arms companies. This information is solely for informational purposes, is not complete, and does not contain material information about the Investure Funds and a client’s portfolio. This information should not be relied upon in any way in making an investment decision. Investure reserves the right to make changes in a client’s portfolio at any time and Investure is under no obligation to update the estimated information included herein. With the aforementioned in mind, of the Investure Funds approximately 3.75% is invested in fossil fuels and 0.8% is invested in arms.
Non-Investure Funds (“Legacy Funds”):
For its Legacy Funds the College used the exact methodology to determine percentages invested in fossil fuels and arms as is described above for the Investure Managed Funds. With the aforementioned in mind, of the Legacy Funds approximately 3.2% is invested in fossil fuels and 0.1% is invested in arms.