President Patton: Environmental Stewardship ≠ Fossil Fuel Ownership


Middlebury’s Board of Trustees invests our billion-dollar endowment in a fashion that resembles a clandestine mission, code-named Operation Profit. We know little about where our money is invested, the global impact of these investments appears purposely obscured, and the college community of faculty, staff, and students has zero input on investment decisions. We only know that Middlebury’s endowment includes $60 million worth of stock in fossil fuel corporations due to years of campaigning for this basic information.

As a coordinating committee member of Divest Middlebury, I drove across the East coast to document the destruction of Operation Profit. I walked on blown-up mountains, visited impoverished communities living at the base of power-generating stations, and observed lakes blackened with coal slurry. As an Environmental Policy major, I was well aware of these acts of eco-genocide. However, witnessing the impact of Middlebury’s ownership of $60 million in fossil fuel investments and $750 thousand in coal assets specifically brought me to tear.

These investments hurt not only the places I visited, but contribute to injustices across the globe. Climate change, while produced primarily by wealthy nations, disproportionately harms those in the Global South, especially people of color, women, and those living in poverty. How could my beloved “carbon neutral” institution justify its ownership of any fossil fuel project? By defending these unjust investments, Middlebury has failed to listen to the 81% of students who believe environmental, social, and governance must be taken into account for our endowment, the 1000 students who have signed a divestment petition, or the more than 100 students who demanded divestment outside the Fall board meeting. Face to face with the repercussions of Middlebury’s decisions, I was ashamed to be associated not with the college community, but with those trustees who implement Operation Profit despite clear opposition.

Divest Middlebury’s sole demand since 2013 has been to “divest all endowment assets, both directly held and commingled, that include any of the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies.” Back in 2013, divestment would have made Middlebury a true environmental leader and sent a strong message to peer institutions. Instead, the trustees voted to remain owners of the fossil fuel industry, lending the college’s moral license and reputation for sustainability to corporations who profit off climate injustice.

When the trustees voted not to divest in 2013, they were able to hide behind a curtain of uncertainty. What would happen to our endowment returns? How would divestment work with our current money manager, Investure? These were legitimate questions at the time, but global institutions have repeatedly decided that divestment is not simply a moral imperative, but vital to their endowments’ financial security.

To date, 813 institutions with a combined divestment of $6.01 trillion agree that fossil fuel corporations will not reach current market evaluations without warming the Earth by 6 ̊C. As worsening extreme weather ravages the globe, low-lying areas face rising waters, tropical diseases continue to spread, and water supplies become increasingly stressed, governments will stop the burning of fossil fuels. The market for dirty energy will disappear, causing reserves currently valued at trillions of dollars to become worthless.

Peer institutions have acknowledged these stranded assets. Barnard College’s trustees unanimously committed to divest and have left Investure. The Rockefeller Foundation — the founders of ExxonMobil — divested and left Investure. Colby College became the first NESCAC school to divest. Even New York City and State decided to divest, causing billions to leave the industry and sending the endorsement of the world’s financial capital to the divestment movement. Every week, new Boards of Trustees determine that fossil fuel divestment is morally and fiducially responsible, it’s about time Middlebury does the same.

Divestment will eventually occur. But the question is, will it be too late? President Patton, Chair Parizeau, Mr. Provost, Mr. Truscott, and others, will you forgo your last chance to send a clear message that Middlebury demands a transition to a post-carbon economy? Will you forgo the opportunity to sell ownership in an industry whose current market evaluation is contingent upon the burning of all fossil fuel reserves and the irreversible alteration of Earth’s climate? It is too late for Middlebury to be a leader on divestment, but I hope that Middlebury’s noteworthy contributions to environmental stewardship will not be overshadowed by the moral outrage and fiduciary irresponsibility caused by your indefensible loyalty to Operation Profit.

Visit go/divest and join us Sunday 8 to 9 in Hillcrest 103 to get involved.

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