THE BLOG

Swarthmore College, What Are You Values?

06/17/2014 05:37 pm 17:37:51 | Updated Aug 17, 2014

"It's surprising that Swarthmore, which prides itself on social justice, would be so hesitant when you try to involve the institution itself. It's astounding to us to see the ways they continue to resist and won't put their money where their mouth is."

Kate Aronoff
Swarthmore Mountain Justice
Student Activist for Social Justice

Swarthmore College has a current endowment of $1.635 billion, some of which is invested in support of the fossil fuel industry, and yet historically the college has been a strong supporter of social justice in essentially all other aspects of its operation. The climate change -- fossil fuel connection does not appear to be on its radar screen.

Rebecca, may I offer a thought for your kind consideration? Over the last 30 years, I have found in my studies that people who achieve success and long-term personal fulfillment all follow the same formula. I have also found that this formula works for institutions, as well. After all, institutions are but a collection of individuals, hopefully motivated and pulling together in the same direction to achieve a common set of agreed-upon goals.

It always starts with what you're really good at and love to do. I call it your Essence. And when you connect your Essence with something in the world that makes it a better place in which to live you have found your Life Purpose. This discovery ignites amazing levels of Passion which generate intense and extended levels of physical and emotional Energy.

The result is an open channel between the left and rights hemispheres of your brain leading to immense Creativity and Innovation. As a consequence of this pathway, you are able to meet challenges that could never have been met successfully under normal circumstances. The end result is a Return, which can be financial, psychological, emotional, spiritual, or some combination of all four.

This all leads to a deep sense of Gratitude, which is ALWAYS the basis for Fulfillment. And when this process is meshed intimately with your True Values -- how you choose to live your life -- you are on a path to Long-term Fulfillment.

It seems to me that Swarthmore has it all down pat up to True Values. I am not suggesting that the college does not have a set of stated values. I am simply asking, "Are they your True Values, i.e., those by which you live every aspect of your operation? And, do all of your stakeholders -- students, parents, professors, investors, suppliers, the community, the world -- know what they are?

In accessing your True Values, I make no moral or ethical judgment. You simply must discover and admit to the way you wish to live your life, and never say one thing, but feel best doing another. The father who is content to neglect his family and put all of his energies into his profession should not wave a values flag that says his family comes first.

True Values are not values that the organization thinks should guide its every move. They are values that deep down in your very soul are embraced by the constituents of the enterprise. If these values are supported by the majority, in time those who do not embrace them leave. They feel a strong sense of discomfort. Over time, the entity evolves to completely and passionately embrace these core True Values. Violations of any of them are not tolerated by the stakeholders.

The value question concerning the Swarthmore endowment issue is this. Does Swarthmore invest its endowment strictly for a financial return, no holds barred? Do you invest in tobacco companies, which almost always give large returns? What about weapons manufacturers? Where do you draw the line?

More to the point, do you invest in coal and other fossil fuel companies, which have been shown beyond intelligent doubt by a few hundred thousand skilled scientists around the globe to be a major cause of anthropogenic climate change? The consequences to humanity, currently, and increasing sharply over time, are frightening.

Let's not dismiss the intuition and concerns of our informed and intelligent youth. There are a rapidly growing numbers of them around the world who don't want to live in the old ways of our capitalistic industrial revolutionized society, making and selling more and more stuff, no matter what the impact on humanity. They are not worried about the earth. They know it always comes back with time. But humanity, that's a different story.

Over the last 550 million years, there have been five mass extensions of all living species. Somehow the earth and living species re-evolved after each of these destructive events, but only once, some 200,000 years ago did the human species evolve on Planet Earth.

If I understand correctly, Swarthmore's financial experts set about to complete the very challenging task of calculating how much money would be at risk if the college were to release its endowment from support of fossil fuels. Apparently, they concluded that the college would lose $204 million over 10 years. I find this a bit mysterious. Why?

In early May of this year, Stanford University shocked the academic endowment world when it decided to eliminate any direct investments in publicly traded companies whose primary business is mining coal for energy generation. The Stanford endowment fund is $18.7 billion. My question is, "If Swarthmore were to lose $204 million over 10 years by avoiding fossil fuel investments, how much will Stanford lose by doing the same with an endowment that is more than 10 times larger?"

I understand that there is not necessarily a one-to-one correlation, but this still doesn't compute. Stanford's investment counselors are among the best in the world. Are they missing something? And, what about nearly a dozen other colleges that in varying degrees, have committed to divest endowment investments in fossil fuels? And, there are more about to enter the fold.

Giles Kemp, chairman of Swarthmore's board of managers, asserts that the cost of divestment in support of fossil fuel companies would be simply a "symbolic" act and would have little if any impact on fossil fuel companies. Mr. Kemp, never underestimate the power of a symbol. Over the centuries, hundreds of millions of people have seen either their demise or exaltation, based on symbols.

What would Swarthmore founders, Joseph Wharton and Lucretia Mott think about this situation? They were prominent in the abolitionist and women's rights movements as well as other social concerns long before these same issues raised their head in modern society. To this very day, Swarthmore overtly advertises its commitment to social responsibility. Helen Magill, who graduated from Swarthmore in 1873, was the first women to receive a PhD in the U.S. This all seems to me like a strong commitment to social values and justice.

And so I ask you, Rebecca, "What are the specific True Values of Swarthmore College? What are those values for which you would go the wall?" Perhaps, if I knew the answer to that question, I would understand whether your institution has made the "right" decision in supporting fossil fuel companies.