Colorado College has a new Responsible Endowments Fund!

By Anna Kelly

Colorado_College_REF.jpg

Photo credit: Veronica Spann.

This morning, the Student Divestment Committee (SDC) will ask the Board of Trustees to reconsider divesting from fossil fuels. The group will present their most recent strategic move—the creation of a fund called the Colorado College Responsible Endowment Fund (CCREF) which collects donations from alumni that are contingent on the Board’s divestment by 2016.

This is not the first time that the subject has been brought to the board, but this time the SDC is bringing a carrot instead of a stick. This action is, for the SDC, an escalation of efforts after what they see as dismissive responses from the Board to other tactics.

“We have tried to come at this problem from all angles,” said Ben Criswell, a junior student leader for the SDC. “So now we’re trying to talk in dollars and cents with this initiative and show that our students and our alumni are willing to put money behind their sentiment and really walk the walk of this thing.”

The SDC has raised over $5,000 since the endowment fund was initiated on February 4th. As of Tuesday night, 17 people have donated.

The endowment fund, which is completely separate from the College and is facilitated through the Responsible Endowments Coalition (REC), allows alumni to contribute to a fund that will be added to the endowment if the Board decides to divest. The REC has helped dozens of other colleges set up similar funds to encourage their Board of Trustees to divest from various objectionable industries.

Although the SDC is confident in the effectiveness of this tool, it is clear that all members of the institution do not agree.

“I am aware that the Divestment Committee exists, and I praise their efforts,” wrote Sean Pieri, Vice President of Advancement at Colorado College, in an email. “While this is a noble endeavor, there are significant headwinds that the committee doesn’t fully understand that will limit their ability to meet their stated goals.”

Pieri thinks that there are more effective ways to make the change the SDC wants to see.

“It would be prudent to tack and change course, focusing on actions related to energy savings, not just a symbolic cleansing of the hands on the subject.”

The Student Trustee for Colorado College chose not to comment for the article at this time.

The Divestment Committee sees the Board’s responses to their requests for divestment as dismissive.

“I think that they regard their fiduciary responsibility to increase the size of the endowment as their priority and have not expressed much willingness to negotiate what fiduciary responsibility means or should mean,” said Criswell.

For members of the SDC, this fiduciary responsibility means aligning the school’s financial investments with its moral and political values.

“The fact that we are a higher education institution that professes the science of climate change necessitates that on those grounds we should divest,” said Alex Suber, another student leader of SDC.

Katherine Giuffre, an Associate Professor of Sociology at CC, said that this technique has a successful track record. When she was an undergraduate at Harvard University, the divestment movement from South Africa during the apartheid was underway. Eventually, the technique worked, and Harvard divested from the oppressive South African government.

Giuffre said that this fund is, in some ways, a compromise.

“This doesn’t have to be an antagonistic relationship with the college,” said Giuffre. “[The fund] is a way of saying that the students certainly understand the college’s point of view, and that they don’t want to do things like taking money away from financial aid. That’s not the goal here, to hurt the college financially. The goal is to figure out ways that every constituent at the table’s voice is heard, and that if we can accommodate everyone, we will.”

However, Giuffre said that it is important for the SDC to understand the timeline on which this technique can be successful.

“A really important part of this is not to expect it to happen overnight,” said Giuffre. “We’re looking at this in terms of years.”

For this reason, Giuffre thinks that it is important for the SDC to make sure that generations of CC students down the line maintain interest in the movement for it to succeed.

As for the current members of SDC, they are confident that their organization will find success soon. In addition to her personal experience and passion for environmental justice, Ellen Rigell, a SDC student leader, had another reason that she’s fighting for divestment.

“I just think it will work,” said Rigell. “I think that the power of the movement and the power of hundred of religious groups and individuals taking a stand across the country will tell our governing system that thousands of our future leaders are very serious about shaming the fossil fuel industry.”

The SDC will present the concept of this fund to the Board in a 7:30 a.m. meeting geared towards addressing student questions. The SDC plans on continuing the fund until the Board of Trustees announces its plan to divest from the fossil fuel industry.

This article originally appeared on 2/27/2015 in The Catalyst.

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