Divest Dickinson: An Introduction, Part Two of Two – How Dickinson Invests

Erik Smith '22, Guest Writer

For more information on the issues of divestment, fossil fuels, and how it all connects to Dickinson, please refer to the first part of this series, entitled “Divest Dickinson: An Introduction, Part One of Two – What is Divestment?”, published on Feb. 4.

So fossil fuels are not great. At the very least, they don’t deserve our financial investment or the influence they have garnered within our government. How does Dickinson fit into all of this, and what can we do about it?

Every college and university invests in the stock market through its endowment: an accumulation of financial donations meant to be a resource for the school to draw on when needed, such as to survive tough financial times or to fund sizable new projects. Our endowment has existed since the college’s inception and is meant to grow annually through continued donations as well as returns on our investments. About 80% of Dickinson’s endowment is handled by Investure, a company which pools funds from many clients in order to gain access to more successful investment managers. Other Investure clients include Middlebury College, Franklin & Marshall College, The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the National Academy of Sciences. Investure is essentially a liaison between the college and these managers, who buy and sell stock daily in addition to long-term holdings, growing this pool of money and thus, our endowment.

This is where things get murky. These investment managers consider most of their day-to-day stock holdings to be proprietary information, meaning they don’t have to tell anyone – including Investure and Dickinson – exactly what they are. They do provide some estimates, however, as to what they contain. Investure’s estimates tell us that about 4% of the part of Dickinson’s endowment that they manage is in the fossil fuel industry. That may sound insignificant, but it’s around $16 million. If you had $16 million, would you give it to the companies willing to endanger the future of our planet’s inhabitants and resources so that they can profit?

Investure is a successful investment firm and has helped grow the college’s endowment significantly since we joined in 2006. Because of this, leaving Investure is not really an option at the moment, as the Board of Trustees demonstrated in 2013 when they first voted against divestment. Things have changed since then, though. Our ability to track these investments has improved, and Middlebury College and Smith College – other clients of Investure, with much larger endowments – have voted to divest. As the administrators and trustees responsible for Dickinson’s financials have made abundantly clear to us, these colleges did not and cannot fully “divest” immediately because of Investure’s long-term holdings which no one client can force them to sell. However, these colleges have committed to making no new fossil fuel investments so that, once these long-term investments are sold, their portfolios will be as fossil fuel-free as possible under the Investure system.

Divest Dickinson seeks to follow and surpass Middlebury’s and Smith’s inspiring examples. Their model would be a great first step, but we at Divest Dickinson believe there is more to be done afterwards, including getting Investure to establish a fossil fuel-free fund for colleges like Middlebury, Smith, and Dickinson to choose, and convincing the college to implement a number of other sustainability and justice initiatives that have been put on the back burner in recent years. We are proud to already be in discussions with the college’s administration and trustees on these ideas, but we are a student movement at our core and cannot achieve our goals without campus-wide support, including our faculty and staff. If these sound like worthy causes to you, check our Instagram, @divestdickinson, or contact us at [email protected] for meeting times and more information.

So now, I hope, you understand what Divest Dickinson means. There’s a lot to our name (and even more to our mission) and we are committed to achieving all of it. We want to hold Dickinson accountable to its values and join a worldwide movement committed to shaping a better and more just future. The fossil fuel industry does not have the right to continue shaping the future they corrupted. If you have any more questions, you know where to find us. We won’t be going away anytime soon.