by Lucas Burdick (originally posted on gofossilfree.org)
College of the Atlantic is in many ways a college like any other. Similar to many colleges, we have student committees, dorms, clubs, environmental commitments, engaged students actively working to do something about the climate crisis we face, and an endowment made up largely of stocks and bonds of companies we’d rather not associate ourselves with. COA is also a very unique college. This College was born out of the US environmental movement. From the onset, it was to be an “experimental college” based on the precepts of social consciousness and ecological thinking. While we are more of an insular community than an utopia, things happen differently here, although not all that differently.
As at many colleges our push to divest from fossil fuels started with a call to action. Our shot heard around the campus was not a banner drop, or a rally, or even a big meeting but rather an email. The email sent from one student to thirty others — more than a tenth of the people enrolled — stated the facts simply: 350 and others are calling for us to divest from fossil fuels, divestment works, and we could do be divested by the end Board meetings next week.
In that week between the start of the campaign and the meeting where students presented to the Board about divesting, we collected signatures from 75% of the student body, and talked to the President of the College. In our meetings with the administration we were greeted with general excitement and were given all of the information we asked for.
When the big day came, a week after the email was sent out, five students attended the Investment Committee to the Trustees quarterly meeting. We sat through the conference calls with the representatives of the College’s money managers and the off-site trustees. They must have heard we were coming. One of the money managers in their report said that while it would be adverse to the College’s portfolio to divest, “it’d just take a phone call to make the switch, if that was what the College wanted to do.”
The student presentation on divestment was the last thing on the Committee’s agenda. We made the case that divesting from fossil fuels rather straightforwardly. Given the present climate crisis, divesting is morally and politically just and that it was present and future students of the College would want. We also made the argument that divesting was reinvesting and didn’t mean we had to lose any money, or raise anyone’s tuition.
By the end of the meeting it was apparent that the Investment Committee was not going to come to a unanimous decision. We decided then that a task force of students, faculty, and administrators that would be charged with looking into the issue more and crafting a resolution for the Board to be passed in April.
The students left the meeting to be greeted by students writing for the student newspaper and filming for a documentary film class with a sense of accomplishment but also quandary.
“COA Divests: Not Today, But Very Soon,” was the title of the email that went out to the student body. “It’s going to happen,” one of us said in an interview, “The Board wants to run the numbers themselves, and they want to not just go on our word about this, but it looks like this is going to happen and we, the students, are going to make sure of it. We’re going to continue to meet with the administration and see this through.”
An amicable administration, thoughtful trustees, and good faith negotiations are seldom elements of the stories told by student organizers. What COA’s one week divestment campaign shows is that we are not demanding the impossible of our Colleges’. This is, in some respect, the least they can do, and we need to demand they do it.