SGA Update

By Ben Anderson

In response to the Dalai Lama Welcoming Committee’s (DLWC) email, in which students sent out a mock press release to hundreds of students, faculty and staff claiming the College decided to divest from arms and fossil fuels in light of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s visit, Community Council Co-Chair Barrett Smith ’13 and Student Government Association (SGA) Senator Anna Shireman-Grabowski ’15.5 presented a resolution asking the administration to invest its money in ways that reflect its mission at the Oct. 21 meeting of the SGA.

“Though we don’t have the final authority to control where our money goes,” Smith argued, “we have this opportunity to act as a megaphone for the student body in addressing the administration.”

The bill was met with mixed opinions, with many of the senators questioning the effectiveness of such a resolution.

“I don’t think the purpose of the endowment is to represent us as a body,” said Senator Rachel Liddell ’15.5, one of the senators who ultimately voted against the resolution. “I see it as a possibility for the College to generate wealth. I support this bill in spirit but I want to open the idea that [divestment] isn’t this easy.”

The writers of the resolution and its supporters pointed out that the College has very clear language in its carbon neutrality pledge that states it will seek out opportunities to invest its money in green initiatives.

A large part of the endowment is invested by the company Investure, and the details of the investment are not made available to the public. Investure delegates portions of the endowment to investment managers, who are free to invest the money in a way that they believe to be the most efficient.

A few of the senators cited the work the student group Students for Responsible Investment (SRI) has done to address this issue. They pointed out that, although the issue is more complicated than simply pulling money out of “bad companies,” the College and Investure have the ability to put up screens on parts or all of the investment to ensure that the money does not go to certain companies, or that it does go to specific companies.

In the end, the resolution passed with 14 votes for, one against and one abstention.

The Oct. 28 meeting of the SGA opened with a presentation by Peter Mattson ’14, the SGA treasurer and chair of the finance committee. Mattson outlined the current SGA budget and the plans for the finance committee in the coming year. Financial commitments for the year exceed the money generated by the student activity fee — the fund’s main source of revenue — by about $100,000, a sum that will be taken instead from the SGA reserve fund.

This has been a steep drop in the reserve fund and both Mattson and SGA President Charlie Arnowitz ’13 have been working hard to address these financial issues. Some of their proposed solutions are to talk with the administration about shouldering some expenses, such as paying for midnight breakfast, increasing the student activity fee and reforming guidelines on how student organizations can spend money.

After this, the issue of the DLWC returned to the Senate floor with another resolution from Smith and Shireman-Grabowski. This resolution, titled, “The Resolution in Support of Student Free Speech,” contained stark language citing general support for students’ free speech, as well as support for the actions of the DLWC. The authors of the resolution pointed out that the issue went beyond questions of the endowment, as the College has repeatedly received low ratings from civil rights groups on its history of handling students’ free speech.

Arnowitz offered his general support for the issue of free speech, but ultimately did not support the resolution.

“We share a common goal of making our endowment more ethical, and I feel this bill undermines the progress made by groups such as SRI through legitimate channels,” said Arnowitz. “I don’t think it is the place of the SGA to be supporting lying and fraud.”

Both authors of this resolution pointed out repeatedly that no official judicial ruling had been made about the actions and because of this, it is not appropriate to label the email as fraud. A friendly amendment to the resolution was accepted that changed the language in the bill to general support for free speech, removing any direct mention of the DLWC.

Senator Will Potter ’14.5 spoke to the compromise of the group.

“Free speech is the opportunity to speak freely, not the ability to lie and take away others’ right to speak,” said Potter.

Even after the language was removed, much of the meeting’s discussion centered around the DLWC. Some of the senators cited support for the group’s ideas but questioned their possibly illegitimate use of a widespread email.

“Soon after the email went out, posters were put up in dining halls outlining the group’s beliefs and they weren’t censored,” said Liddell. “I think we can understand the College’s decision to limit student access to all-student emails, so why don’t students express themselves through legitimate means?”

The bill eventually failed with two votes for, 12 votes against and two abstentions. Senator Nathan Arnosti ’13, who voted against the bill, explained that he was concerned with how much the bill needed to be edited.

“Many bills fail before they pass,” said Arnosti. “We seem to be trying to change this bill so much that it is becoming a new bill. Perhaps if the authors revisited their language, they could bring to the Senate floor a bill that would receive much more support.”