June 13, 2014
Mr. Brett A. Smith
Minneapolis, MN 55419
Dear Brett (if I may):
I appreciate that you took the time to share your views with me in your letter of May 8 and I respect that your sentiments about dívestment from all fossil fuel-related stocks are shared by some other members of the College community.
While I and the College’s Board of Trustees also support the objective of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions, it is most unlikely that the Board would elect to divest now or in the foreseeable future. Nor do I support such an approach at this time.
You have surely read the various reasons why Carleton’s peer colleges have consistently rejected calls for such divestment. While I will not repeat all those analyses here, many of those arguments are also relevant in Carleton’s context.
The critical question, it seems to me, is what goal you seek to achieve. If the principal objective is to reduce Carleton’s carbon footprint, there are many short- and longer-range steps we might consider and take towards that end. You are familiar with the College’s Climate Action Plan. lf that Plan is insufficient, we have campus channels to debate and improve it.
Alternatively, if your goal is to heighten public awareness of climate change and enact stronger environmental safeguards, lobbying and other forms of political action seem considerably more appropriate than college and university divestment.
Even apart from the selection of the best tactics to advance your goals, Carleton’s history does not offer support for divestment. Carleton has been very reluctant to take formal institutional positions on non-academic issues. We are properly circumspect about inserting the College into political debates about what is moral or correct. For example, Carleton rejected calls to divest from all South Africa-related stocks in the apartheid era. And, as you are aware, in 2013 the College issued a “Statement on Fossil Fuel Divestment,” which explained that “Carleton does not have a policy of divesting, or of supporting divestment.”
The College does, however, have a practice of voting shareholder proxies to support changes in corporate behavior and policy. To that end, we have supported (and I expect would continue to support) shareholder initiatives pushing for more sustainable practices and policies by those companies whose shares we hold.
Again, I thank you for writing to me. While I understand and respect your views on this matter and realize we may not come to a point where we agree about institutional strategies, I do hope that our community can work together in other ways to promote the health of our planet.
Stephen G. Poskanzer