A Message from President Valerie Smith

President Valerie Smith shared the following message with the community on April 17, 2017:

Dear Members of the Swarthmore Community,

As my second year at Swarthmore draws to an end, I appreciate anew what a privilege it is to serve as president of this extraordinary institution. Our dedicated faculty and staff are committed to ensuring that students enjoy a challenging and rewarding experience. Many of our alumni are eager to support current students, whether through professional advice and mentorship or philanthropic generosity.  Parents sacrifice to send their students to Swarthmore and are grateful for the intellectual and personal growth they exhibit.  And our students pursue excellence as scholars, artists, athletes, and entrepreneurs.

Students are often drawn to Swarthmore by their desire to contribute to the common good.  In the past two years alone, they have worked on a host of local, national, and global projects that address issues such as prison reform, educational reform, sexual assault, voter registration, and environmental sustainability, among many others.

Yet even while we celebrate our shared interests and perspectives, we know that within our community of thoughtful, creative, passionate individuals there will always be differences of opinion. For example, the recent student referendum and faculty resolution calling for divestment from fossil fuel-producing companies in separately-managed accounts reflect differences of opinion with the Board of Managers’ investment policy. Let me provide some additional context regarding the Board’s 2013 and 2015 decisions.

Just before my arrival at Swarthmore, and after four years of study, deliberations, and conversations with divestment advocates and many others, the Board of Managers reached consensus that it would not divest from fossil fuels, thus reaffirming its 25-year-old policy of investing the endowment solely for financial return. Recognizing that climate change represents an urgent threat to humanity, the Board has directed considerable financial and human resources towards carbon pricing, the Sustainability Framework, and the presidents’ commitment to achieve carbon neutrality by 2035 -- all strategies that will significantly reduce our carbon footprint, position us as leaders in confronting climate change among institutions of higher education, and foster systemic change.

As part of its ongoing due diligence, the Investment Committee has initiated periodic surveys of the endowment’s investment managers to assess how they consider climate change in their investment decision process. This information helps us to evaluate our investment manager relationships.

The Board’s decision was communicated in detail in 2015 (http://www.swarthmore.edu/board-managers/sustainability-and-investment-p...), affirming and updating the earlier decision in 2013 (http://www.swarthmore.edu/board-managers/open-letter-divestment). I urge you to read these documents carefully if you have not already done so.

We agree on the urgency of the problem of climate change but differ on the tactics Swarthmore should pursue to combat it. During the past two years I have met several times with Mountain Justice students to discuss this important distinction. I believe that we must pursue strategies that will actually lower carbon consumption, ones that help to educate students to become leaders in the fight to combat climate change when they graduate, and ones that will have a lasting impact beyond our campus.

This is why we have invested considerable resources in the carbon pricing campaign (http://www.swarthmore.edu/news-events/watch-put-a-price-it), in creating more sustainable facilities, and in innovative approaches to sustainability education. These strategies help reduce our carbon footprint, provide a national platform for carbon pricing advocacy, and have the exponential impact of preparing students to effect transformative change that protects our environment throughout their lives.

As president and as a scholar of African American literature and culture with a special interest in the Civil Rights Movement, I respect and uphold the right of students, faculty, and staff to express their disagreement on a variety of issues.  But at a time when half-truths, baseless claims, and hyperbole have been allowed to dominate the airwaves, we must be guided by the principles and values that have long sustained us: reasoned discourse, civility, peaceful protest, and the resolution of disputes in accordance with clear standards of conduct.  

In the spirit of civil discourse, the Student Government Organization (SGO) would like to host a facilitated dialogue bringing various perspectives on divestment and strategies for addressing climate change into conversation with each other before the end of the semester. We have been working with SGO to plan an event open to all community members, and we hope to share more information as plans develop.

We are all in this together; I invite all interested parties to find ways to work together to achieve our important common goal in a spirit of collaborative effort and mutual respect.

Sincerely,

Valerie Smith
President