Administrative Correspondence: February Board of Trustees Meeting

The Ithaca College Board of Trustees met for their biannual meeting in California last month. Part of DivestIC’s campaign is working towards creating a Socially Responsible Investing Committee to bring together students, faculty, administration, and board members to discuss where our institution’s endowment is invested. We have also requested that two members of the board attend a Divestment conference at Hampshire College to represent our school. This is the correspondence between DivestIC and members of Ithaca College’s administration and Board of Trustees about the board meeting that happened in February and the administration’s commitment to these two things.

February 18, 2014

From: The Environmental Leadership and Actions Network

To: Nancy Pringle, President Rochon, Tom Grape, Chris LaCroix 

Dear Nancy Pringle, President Rochon, Tom Grape, and Chris LaCroix,

My name is Jessie Braverman and I am a member of the Environmental Leadership and Actions Network, a student organization at Ithaca College dedicated to promoting social and environmental justice through direct action.

Last semester you met with DivestIC members Rebecca Billings, Olivia Salindong, and Rebecca Newman to discuss our progress as a club, reiterate the necessity for complete fossil fuel divestment, and to discuss the Socially Responsible Investing Committee we plan to create. The Socially Responsible Investing Committee will be a collaboration between students, faculty, administrators, and Board of Trustees members to discuss what investments would appropriately align with the values of our institution and community.

At the end of the meeting last semester, DivestIC committed to having the name of two students who will be part of this committee. We asked that you also have the names of two board members who would be interested in participating by the end of the February board meeting. We also asked that you send representatives to the divestment conference at Hampshire College.

We are writing again to remind of you this commitment, and to also request that you discuss the Socially Responsible Investing Committee at the board meeting this week, and respond with the names of those interested in participating by two weeks after the meeting.

After almost two years of actively working towards an open dialogue between the students and the administration, we are determined to push the leaders of our community to take action for positive and necessary change.

Thank you for your time and commitment and we look forward to hearing from you soon.

Jessie Braverman
The Environmental Leadership and Actions Network
DivestIC.com

February 18, 2014

From: Nancy Pringle

To: The Environmental Leadership and Actions Network

Jessie,

I have attempted to reach you by phone but have been unable to find a telephone contact for you so please accept this message as a follow-up to your email of February 18, 2014. The Investment Committee of the Board of Trustees has reviewed the following two action requests made by DivestIC and requested that I convey to you the results of their review:

1. Your group requested that a member of IC’s Board of Trustees or administration participate in the Hampshire Conference in April. The committee has requested that a member of the College’s external investment firm, Prime Buchholtz, attend this event at Hampshire College. The firm has agreed to send a representative on the Board’s behalf and this individual will report back to the investment committee following the conference.

2. Your group requested that the Board discuss the socially responsible investment committee that DivestIC is planning to create with a goal of working towards complete fossil fuel divestment at Ithaca College. You also asked that the Board choose and confirm three Board members to serve on this committee. By way of clarification as to the commitment you articulate in your February 18, 2014 correspondence, there was never an agreement made by the Board to name board members to this newly created socially responsible investment committee. At the February Board meeting, the investment committee discussed the socially responsible investment committee to be created by DivestIC and made a determination that it would not be an appropriate fiduciary role for members of the board to serve on this committee in their capacity as board members. As indicated in previous correspondence with you, there is a commitment on the part of the Board to create a fund for socially responsible investment within the College’s investment portfolio but this will take place through established board committee procedures and with board oversight.

Both of the above decisions were reviewed with the entire Board and there was unanimous consent in support of the Board investment committee’s recommendation on each of the questions from the DivestIC group. Please note that the Board believes they have given serious consideration to your questions and therefore the responses provided are final.

I wish you the best as your semester enters into its final weeks.

Nancy Pringle
Secretary to the Board

Divest IC Open Mic Night!

Hi all!

This Monday, December 9 from 7pm – 9pm, we invite you to join us in the pub at Ithaca College for a celebration of intersectional social movements through artistic expression. We want to use this platform to raise awareness on campus of our DivestIC campaign, but also to bring light to the fact that our movement against the fossil fuel industry does not stand alone. We feel it is important to recognize how the exploitation of our earth directly intersects with other forms of oppression, and are looking amplify and unite all voices on this campus and expand the conversation about divestment to a discussion of intersecting systems of exploitation and oppression, to collectively explore and work towards social and environmental justice.

We encourage all folks to come share a song, a poem, your listening ears, or whatever moves your soul!

If you are interested in sharing your voice, please sign up here for a spot at the event! And join the facebook event so you can invite your friends too!

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Co-sponsored by:
Artist 4 Artist
Active Minds 
Ithaca College Environmental Society
IC Organic Growers 
Feminists United 
IC Greens 
Shaleshock 

Thoughts on Divestment

by Imani Hall

I consider myself a realist. I therefore try not to have too much faith in the willingness of the societal structure, in which we all participate and which we all  perpetuate, to change– because there is a lot to change. That being said,  I think that there are many changes that we can make in order to make this world a better place, and I am completely on board with doing all I can to help make those changes so that we can as a society can have a better tomorrow.

A better tomorrow stems off of many choices made today, divestment being one of them. I love the divestment movement here at Ithaca College because it is a group of students coming together under something they agree on and know could make a difference if implemented and is something that is a key part of college. Although I understand the change and societal shift that divestment can create, I do not think that it will be an easy battle to win here at IC based on the facts that the trustee board has many people staked in the fossil fuel industry, that Ithaca College is in a precarious money situation at the moment, and that the student body is not fully aware of what divestment is nor why it is important. All together these make the process more difficult. The fact that many trustee members are invested in the fossil fuel industry already makes those members possibly biased to the notion and possibility of divestment meaning that there could be people on the board against divestment for personal economic reasons. One must also understand that the college is perceived by its students as strapped for money due to the fact that there are many incentives for IC 20/20 that require investments and capital. Because of this the school needs to make sure that it gets the most money on its return, making the Board of Trustees hesitant to divest if there is a chance that the return will not be as great. In relation to student push, it seems as if the ones who know about it support it, but a massive amount of the student body is ignorant of what divestment is and blind to why it is important, making it hard to get the number of people needed to show the administration that it is a change the students want.

Although these many hindrances need to be resolved sooner or later if divestment is going to work, I personally believe that the divestment process here at Ithaca College is at a good place. The DivestIC campaign recently had a meeting with the chairman of the Board of Trustees as well as the chair to the Investment Committee on the Board, and the meeting seemed to have gone well, where both sides are now understood and have agreed to work together.

Currently IC is in a good spot, which will hopefully only get better. Divestment is a big step for all institutions yet in this stage of the game can be critical. Ithaca College is not really known as a trendsetter in anything. Although a unique environment with great faculty and staff, as an institution there has not been many things we have done to set trends nationally. Due to the lack of financial resources there is reluctance for the school to take chances on what could possibly shift academia. This could be it – our opportunity. Less than 10 institutions of higher education have divested so far. Based on the actions of the student body and the Board, Ithaca College could go down in history as one of the top ten– or not. When looking to the future, the movement can only get bigger and the students will not stop fighting for what they believe in.

In a way divestment is inevitable. Hopefully Ithaca College can be on one of the first on the right side of history, after all, aren’t we all on a quest for a sustainable future?

A Recap of Actions During the Biannual Board of Trustees Meeting

Photo by Sabrina Knight/The Ithacan

Photo by Sabrina Knight/The Ithacan

Jessie Braverman:

Last Wednesday marked the anniversary of Divest IC’s first action ever! Exactly one year ago we were in the same exact spot, standing strong outside of the Board of Trustees dinner, signs in hand, smiling faces, ready and eager to converse. While it may seem like our action this year was just a simple repeat of last year, the circumstances and reactions we got this year were significantly different.

After a year of hard work, challenges, learning, and growing, DivestIC returned to meet the Board of Trustees with a completely new mindset. We were not there to harass or intimidate anyone, but were offering support and demonstrating our interest in the decisions made about our school. We were there to share our knowledge about divestment and the racism, classism, sexism, and imperialism that the fossil fuel industry actively perpetuates, and to listen to what others were looking forward to share with us. A one sided conversation is fruitless, and only works to stagnate change rather than fuel it.

By the end of our first action last year, we had only had very short conversations with a few Board of Trustees members. The response we received during our action this year was incredible and unexpected, and demonstrates the immense amount of growth that has been made over the last year. We were ready to speak with everyone inside the dinner, and Board members were just as willing and excited to talk with us. We were able to speak with at least fifteen attendees who walked by and have very genuine and productive conversations about the importance of divestment. We were asked questions, given encouragements, and one alumni even joined us in line and held a banner that read “no rest until we divest!” We were not at all expecting this sort of response, and are overwhelmingly thankful and appreciative of the welcoming and accepting environment created by everyone there.

As students who attend a privileged institution, it is our responsibility to keep our school in check. We represent an integral part of the community that we have created here at IC, and need to be constantly critiquing ourselves and our actions. By keeping our institution and administration in check, we are also empowering and checking ourselves and our own privileges, while also holding ourselves accountable to our responsibility to think about the global effects of our lifestyles. Our friends living in the coal fields of Appalachia, our brothers and sisters in Manchester who are surrounded by an industrial army , our friends fighting desertification in Nigeria, and Indigenous communities in Canada who are constantly facing the attacks of colonization , are all fighting with all they have for their lives and to take back what is theirs. It is our responsibility to stand in solidarity with these folks and make sure their stories are heard so we can support them in any way we possibly can, while making sure not to speak FOR anyone else and to only represent ourselves.

It is our responsibility to engage others in these conversations as well. One goal of divestment is to attack the fossil fuel industry, but it is also to raise the voices of those who are often silenced and to engage people who might not think about these issues in their everyday lives. Institutional divestment is our way of standing in solidarity with frontline communities who are currently facing the immediate effects of climate change and the injustices the fossil fuel industry and other intersecting systems of oppression perpetuate.

While many campaigns are centered around appealing to those in power, Divest IC’s campaign approaches change a bit differently. We recognize that we are not in a place to make any decisions, but we also are not willing to give up our power to the “decision makers.” The power we have as students is unharnassable, and we will not allow decisions in our community to be made by a select few. The effects of climate change will disproportionately affect our generation, so it does not make sense to exclude us from the conversation. We are taking action to encourage inclusion and transparency, and to force the administration and Board of Trustees to be held accountable to their commitment to social and environmental responsibility and to think about how their actions and privileges affect our global community.

This is why we want the decisions made about our endowment to be inclusive and transparent. Students, faculty, administration, and board members need to collaborate with the goal of creating a space of understanding and questioning. The action we held last week outside of the Board of Trustees dinner was the first step towards this collaboration, and I am SO excited to continue working hard, pushing and challenging each other, actively listening to other stories and voices, and creating new and inclusive relationships.

For transparency, inclusivity, solidarity, and the shores of Cayuga Lake.

Rebecca Newman:

We are presenting to Thomas Grape, Chair of the Board of Trustees and Chris Lacroix, Chair of the Investment Committee today. I am so excited, but so nervous and anxious. I along with the other presenters Olivia Salindong and Rebecca Billings have been practicing non stop. We spent many hours trying to find the perfect combination of words to say exactly what we want to the members at the meeting. The time is here to actually present. We arrive early to set up and practice one last time so that we are comfortable in the room. Waiting is the worst when you’re about to present. We all try to ease the tension by making jokes and inspecting the pictures in the room. When the board members finally arrive we are relieved. Introductions are done and then we move into our presentation.

The presentation goes very well! Even if we were all nervous no one looked it. At the end of the presentation the board members asked a few clarifying questions and left understanding our goals and demands for this year. The first demand is to send a board member to a conference at Hampshire college in the spring and the second is to be part of a socially responsible investment committee that can work towards divestment.  As he left, Chris Lacroix said he was happy to see how passionate we are about divestment. This made us so excited, because we are passionate about this issue, which is why we were there to present. This comment combined with the positive response from the Board members on their way into to dinner has definitely given us a more positive attitude about the coming year. At the end of the meeting we were told that they would inform the other Board members about our presentation, discuss it, and then get back to us, which brings us to today.

An Open Letter to the Ithaca College Board of Trustees

Dear Ithaca College Board of Trustees:

        We understand that you have an extremely busy meeting schedule for the next three days, as you only meet twice every year. However, we are disappointed that we as a group were not allowed onto the agenda in order to speak to you all directly. We were granted a twenty minute meeting with Thomas Grape and Chris LaCroix, which we certainly see as accommodating, but also as an effort to keep us from your line of sight.

        We are DivestIC: a coalition made up mostly of IC students, but also of alumni, parents, faculty, professors, parents, and members of the larger Ithaca community. We are a coalition working towards the divestment of our school’s endowment, worth over $200 million, from the fossil fuel industry. We understand that this is not a simple demand, and we recognize that there needs to be an open and constructive dialogue between students and board members in order to realistically work towards the goal of complete divestment. Through the work we have done with our campaign in the last year, we have not been able to achieve anything beyond a semblance of open discourse, and we hope that you will help us change that.

        You may remember us from last October, when we stood respectfully outside your opening dinner in Emerson Suites with signs asking you to help us and encouraging you to take advantage of the opportunity to work with students towards instituting a positive change for our college. Since then, we have had meetings with Chairman of the Board Thomas Grape, President Tom Rochon, General Counsel and Secretary to the Board Nancy Pringle, former Vice President of Finance and Administration Carl Sgreeci, former Provost Peter Bardaglio, and many more administrators, faculty, and other members of Ithaca College’s community. Many of these meetings have felt constrained, obligatory, and intentionally suppressant. Not that we were literally kept from speaking (in all cases), but that we did not feel the capacity for honest, unrestricted conversation was considered by all parties.

        We would like, for a moment, for you to consider where we are coming from with our demands. We would like you to consider the fact that scientists are now more confident than ever, more than 95% certain, that humans are the principal cause of climate change, mainly through our burning of fossil fuels. We would like you to understand that the effects of climate change are currently increasing in intensity and frequency, seen in cases of flooding, natural disasters, rising sea levels, changes in temperature, melting ice caps, forest fires, and increasing ocean acidity. But we also want you to see the other side of fossil-fueled climate change: the destruction of indigenous lands, environmental racism, and other horrifying abuses that have been happening and are happening at this exact moment, with credit due directly to the corporations that we as an institution are supporting with our endowment money.

        Board of Trustees, we want you to consider that we, as students in our twenties, are going to disproportionately bear the global effects of these obscenities. We are terrified for the future of our planet, our families, our ecosystems, and ourselves. At this moment, we have chosen to spend our time in school, at Ithaca College, taking classes and creating communities of comfort and support and solidarity, so that we can learn and grow and be ready to take on whatever it is that our future holds. Ithaca College has helped to shaped us in the past one, two, or three years, into the people we are at this moment. Our school, your school, a place of “higher education” which preaches “sustainability,” has helped us realize the significance of fighting for what we see as important. Our classes and community members have helped us realize that if we don’t have a future to look forward to, we don’t have a present worth putting our hearts into.

        And so we are here, asking you to consider our places as students who can no longer ignore the atrocities of the present and the uncertainties of the future, as students of Ithaca College who need your help to work towards a better future for both our institution and our planet.

        Six U.S. colleges have already committed to divestment. The City of Ithaca has divested, and the Park Foundation has committed to invest their money in only Socially Responsible Investments (SRI). Our nation’s market is shifting away from fossil fuels and towards cleaner energy, as studies from many including HSBC and Citibank have shown. Fossil fuel divestment is an opportunity for Ithaca College to stand up to its own standards of excellence in sustainability and student support, to take a leadership position as one of the first ten colleges in the country to commit to divestment, and to avoid the future investment risks of a nonrenewable, deteriorating industry.

        We are not asking you to come stand with us and hold a sign, or even to commit immediately to divestment. We are asking you to help us towards our goal of forming a committee of students, faculty, and board members by the end of this school year to officially work towards fossil fuel divestment. We recognize that we don’t have all the answers, and that we don’t know the extent of what the divestment process will look like. We understand that there are fiduciary responsibilities and financial complications, but that is why we all  need to work together towards this solution.

        In our meeting with Mr. Grape and Mr. Lacroix on Thursday, we will ask that they commit to having a confirmed list of Board members that will be on the Socially Responsible Investing Committee by the date of the February Board meeting. We will do our part as well, and have a confirmed list of students and faculty by that time. If you would like to be a part of the committee, if you would like to come forward and speak in support of our campaign, or if you have any other response to this open letter that you would like to share, we invite you to follow this link to a very short survey that will allow you to provide your reactions and initial thoughts.

        Thank you for allowing our voices to be heard by reading this letter, and thank you for all of the work that you do in keeping Ithaca College the incredible place that it is. We greatly look forward to moving towards fossil fuel divestment together.

Sincerely,

DivestIC

We will not be silenced.

by Abby Togliatti 

For the past year I have been working on the fossil fuel divestment campaign at Ithaca College. The main purpose of this campaign is to divest Ithaca College’s endowment out of the fossil fuel industry (read blogs below to learn more). Most people see this movement as a purely environmental campaign, but to me it is so much bigger than that. It is a social movement, requiring institutions to recognize the way in which their money perpetuates inequalities and inequities of all kinds. The endowment at Ithaca College is our money. It does not belong to specific individuals and those individuals should not be the only ones dictating where our money goes. Yet this is the process that occurs at every college across the nation.

For the past year we have had on and off conversation with members of the administration and Board of Trustee members. Most of these correspondences have ended in some way of trying to silence us, trying to push us aside, trying to tell us that divestment from fossil fuels is not a priority at Ithaca College. The most recent communication we have had with the administration was with Nancy Pringle, Secretary and General Counsel to the Board, telling us that we will not be presenting about divestment at the BOT meeting this upcoming fall (this was one of our requests at the rally this past spring), but offering us a meeting with Thomas Grape, the Chairman of the Board, as long as we have “new” information to share.

How can Ithaca College possibly commit to sustainable and socially responsible practices if they are directly supporting industries that cause environmental and social injustices? How can Ithaca College disregard student, alumni, staff and community member action against their contradictions as a college? How can Ithaca College, an institution of higher learning, discourage the changes we are trying to make for the better?

By offering us this meeting with Thomas Grape, the administration is not opening up an ongoing dialogue with us. Alternatively, I feel as if their offer is more of a way to silence us. If we give you this meeting, we are giving you what you want, you will be happy and leave us alone. But it is NOT enough! You are not going to silence us! I am not happy! I want more from the administration. I want all administrators and Board members to feel just as passionately as I do about divestment from fossil fuels. But the way in which the administration is talking to us and not with us is inhibiting the progress we are trying to achieve with the divestment campaign here at Ithaca College. I want to be working on this nationwide strategy to make the world we live in a better place alongside those in power, not against them.

Growing our DivestIC Community: What to look forward to in the coming semester

Every person wants to exist within a community that can build each member up. We all want to create a like-minded space that supports the positive values we all hold, and we want to be sure that we are not preventing others from doing the same. This desire for sincere, positive change led our club, the Environmental Leadership and Actions Network, to begin a our DivestIC campaign in the fall of 2012. We were a small club, made up mostly of Ithaca College students, who were at a loss as to what project to take on. But the growing power and support behind the national fossil fuel divestment campaign drew us in; we realized that our school giving money to the fossil fuel industry was contradictory to our lines of thinking.

The fossil fuel industry is the main catalyst pushing global climate change forward. Through the extraction, refining, transportation, and use of fossil fuels, we are experiencing ever-rising temperatures, climate shifts, and harmful social and economic effects. From melting ice caps to broken communities, the fossil fuel industry is an unsustainable, profit-driven, and dangerous actor in our global community.

One way that students (and others!) have found to combat such power is through divestment. Here’s how it works: every private institution has an endowment, which is made up of money that the school receives from tuition and outside donations. The endowment is invested into all aspects of the economy by the Board of Trustees, and the returns on these investments are what fund the institution. Ithaca College’s endowment is over $200 million, and we know for a fact that at least a portion of this money, our money, is being invested into the fossil fuel industry.

DivestIC, as a coalition of Ithaca College community members, is pushing for Ithaca College to divest (the opposite of invest) our endowment from the fossil fuel industry. This would be more than just a financial act, it is a way for our school to stand up to their commitment to sustainability and community support.

Last year, we focused on opening up a channel of communication with the administration, and getting the word out to the campus community about our campaign. Feel free to read through our past blog posts to see how far we’ve come.

This year, we hope to focus more strongly on the legitimization of our efforts, and to work towards creating a realistic and positive plan to make IC’s divestment from fossil fuels a reality. We want to show our administration and Board of Trustees that this is not only possible, but necessary. We know that divestment is an imperative step that we as members of our own communities must fight for, in order to build a positive and sustainable world.

And that’s where you come it. We are always looking for new dedicated members to join our coalition and help us move our campaign forward. You can start by signing the petition online here, and sharing it on your facebook or elsewhere. You can stay up to date with DivestIC by liking our facebook page, following this blog, or getting on our email listserve (just send your name and email to clubELAN144@gmail.com).

Our very first meeting of the semester will take place on Monday, September 9 at 8:00 pm in Friends Hall. We would love to see a ton of new faces, no experience or prior knowledge necessary. DivestIC is a positive, committed community, and together we can work to hold our school accountable for their actions, and start building a better world.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to message our facebook page, or email us at clubELAN144@gmail.com.