College protesters push trustees to divest from weapons, global warming
MIDDLEBURY — Several dozen Middlebury College students marked the last day of spring semester classes with a protest outside of the administrative buildings at Old Chapel that lasted through Friday night and into the next day, serenading the board of trustees’ May meeting with a barrage of speeches, chants and acoustic guitar songs.
Pizza was served, and points were made.
The event was a final push from student organizations that have campaigned for months to have the college divest the 3.6 percent of its $900 million endowment currently invested in fossil fuel companies and 0.6 percent invested in weapons companies.
“For the duration of the meetings, we almost continuously had some kind of a student presence outside Old Chapel, simply greeting trustees and asking them for a commitment to divestment and a role for students in the ongoing logistical research,” said sophomore organizer Jeannie Bartlett. “Some trustees thanked us, and one showed interest in continuing direct communication with us about divestment.”
Middlebury’s endowment is managed by a third party, Investure, which commingles Middlebury’s funds with those of over a dozen other institutions, a situation that college officials say complicates the process of divestment.
The college has not directly responded to students’ requests to adhere to a five-year timeline. Students have asked the trustees to announce an intention to divest now, and then phase out the college’s investments in fossil fuel companies over a five-year period.
“The board of trustees met Friday and Saturday and certainly devoted considerable time to discussion of endowment management practices,” college spokesman Bill Burger told the Independent. “No decision has been made.”
Burger said not to expect a hasty decision or adherence to a specific timeline, but that the college would continue to discuss and explore the issue, and “in due time” share a course of action with the community.
“It says a lot for Middlebury that we’re engaged in this discussion in such an open and transparent manner,” Burger said.
Fall semester saw several notable student-led protests on Middlebury’s campus that championed the divestment cause, including a false press release announcing divestment circulated by students posing as a “Dalai Lama Welcoming Committee,” and a demonstration at a talk by a visiting Shell executive. Student groups on campus nabbed statewide media coverage for some of their actions.
Separately but concurrently, Scholar in Residence and environmental activist Bill McKibben launched a cross-country tour calling for colleges and universities across the country to divest from fossil fuels. The divestment movement seems to be catching fire, with divestment campaigns active on over 350 campuses nationwide.
College president Ron Liebowitz announced in February that the college would take formal steps to consider divestment, and sponsored panels and other community discussions on the topic.
This week, Green Mountain College in Poultney announced its decision to divest, causing Middlebury student leaders to note that the college — internationally renowned for its environmental leadership — was falling behind.
“Middlebury has been at the forefront of the national movement all year, but now we are lagging,” said sophomore Teddy Smyth, president of the student club Divest for Our Future. “Two of our Vermont neighbors, Sterling College and Green Mountain College, have already voted to divest. Our reputation for environmental leadership is very much at risk as we fall behind our peers.”
Smyth was confident, however, that the student movement at Middlebury is still running strong.
“The support we’ve built across the student body is strong and resilient. I’m confident we’ll be able to keep momentum rolling through graduation and across the summer, so that we’ll be ready to ramp our campaign back up in the fall in a big way,” he said.
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