In September 2021, Divest Carleton alumni leadership sent the new Carleton president a letter requesting a meeting to discuss our concerns, which resulted in an online call between the president and alumni and student leaders. Here is that letter:
Dear President Byerly,
On behalf of the Alumni of Divest Carleton, welcome to Northfield! We hope you have had a good summer settling in and are looking forward to the 2021-2022 school year. No doubt you will find much to love at Carleton, as we did during our years as students. We wish you success in meeting the challenges of your new position.
The challenge of special concern to us is Carleton’s response to the risks associated with the continued use of fossil fuels. As an alumni group with more than 2600 members from 70 unique graduating classes, we would like to set up a call with you and a few of our members before the end of October so that we can further explain our concerns and answer any questions you might have. For now, in brief, here is an overview of our group.
Since 2013, alumni and student members of Divest Carleton have advocated that Carleton transition its endowment away from fossil fuel funds. Our petition (attached here) now holds 2920 names, including 2687 alumni and 139 current students. It reads: “Because it is unconscionable to pay for education with investments that will condemn the planet to climate disaster, we call on Carleton College to: 1. Immediately freeze any new investment in fossil-fuel companies, and 2. Divest within five years from direct ownership and from any commingled funds that include fossil-fuel public equities or corporate bonds.”
Since our group was formed, several Carleton competitors have made explicit commitments to phase out fossil fuel funds, including Middlebury, Smith, Wesleyan, Amherst, Wellesley, and even our Minnesota neighbors St. Olaf, Macalester, and the University of Minnesota. In 2019, the Carletonian published an article by Divest Carleton that analyzed liberal arts’ schools reasons for divestments. Those reasons are echoed in Harvard University’s September 9 statement in support of its decision to phase out fossil fuel investments, which reads, in part: “Given the need to decarbonize the economy and our responsibility as fiduciaries to make long-term investment decisions that support our teaching and research mission, we do not believe such investments are prudent.”
All these commitments are strong evidence that fossil fuel divestment is possible for a school like Carleton because it is backed by sound ethical reasoning and is consistent with the Board of Trustees’ fiduciary duty to invest Carleton’s endowment wisely.
In fact, one of Carleton’s values is to strive “to be a model of stewardship for the environment by incorporating ideals of sustainability into the operations of the college and the daily life of individuals.” This value supports the Board’s investments in reducing Carleton’s carbon footprint—from replacing light bulbs to the new heat pump system—which Divest Carleton applauds. But the same value is at odds with seeking profits from investments in companies whose business plans exacerbate the risks associated with the continued use of fossil fuels.
This conviction has propelled Carls to push for fossil fuel divestment for many years. In 2015, the Carleton Responsible Investment Committee (CRIC) recommended full divestment from direct ownership in fossil fuel companies. When the Board of Trustees voted to reject this recommendation, Divest Carleton alumni, Divest Carleton students, and CRIC all responded to the Board’s refusal, each expressing frustration with the quality of the arguments in defense of the status quo.
Since then, students and alumni have continued to build support for divestment. At the 2019 reunion, interested alumni filled the Goodhue Superlounge for a panel on divestment and socially responsible investing. The Senate of the Carleton Student Association (CSA) voted unanimously in May 2020 for fossil fuel divestment. Even in 2020 and 2021, during the pandemic, students have been protesting in favor of divestment.
Below this email, we have included some links to recent Carletonian articles and other informational resources that fill out the history of the divestment movement.
We look forward to meeting you so that we can open up a channel of communication and explore ways to work together. In the meantime, again, welcome to the Carleton community! Enjoy these first few weeks of term—they are always special ones.
The Alumni of Divest Carleton Leadership Team
Rebecca Hahn ‘09
Dimitri Smirnoff ’15
Maddie Halloran ‘14
Britta Johnson ’97
Mindy Bell ‘80
Eleanor Haase ’79
Ben Stiegler ‘77
Patrick Dunlevy ‘72
Joan Rabinowitz ‘68
Joshua Rabinowitz ‘66
Grace Bassekle ’24
Aashutosha Lele ’23
Maya Stovall ‘23
Recent alumni and student letters to the Carletonian:
May 16, 2021: For many reasons, the time has come for Carleton to divest
October 3, 2020: Divest Carleton from fossil fuels to save our school
February 14, 2020: Divesting: Carleton’s time is now
January 17, 2020: Letter to Trustees regarding selling of direct fossil fuel holding
September 29, 2019: Carleton and the climate crisis
May 4, 2019: Why seven liberal arts colleges divested from fossil fuels
Key information on the status of climate science:
The Summary for Policy Makers from Working Group I: The Physical Science Basis, of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 6th Assessment Report