MCSG Overseer: Fossil Free considers referendum on divestment

Margaret Moran

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This week’s MCSG meeting featured a presentation from Emma Harrison ’21, Emily McPhillips ’19 and Sasha Lewis-Norelle ’21 of Fossil Free Mac (FFM) – a student organization urging Macalester to divest from the fossil fuel industry. McPhillips began the presentation by outlining their organization’s history. “For basically as long as there have been international divestment movements, there has been a divestment movement on Mac’s campus,” Phillips said. “We’re coming up on about seven years.

“Over that time, our ask has been adjusted a little bit,” she continued. “We originally were campaigning for full divestment, and then over time we came to learn that it would be more financially feasible over a shorter time frame to ask for the college to put a moratorium on private oil and gas partnerships.” Approximately $40 million of Macalester’s $770 million endowment is directly invested in oil and gas partnerships. Those investments have proven extremely profitable for the college.

“Historically, the private oil and gas partnerships have generated an annualized return of 11.6% dating back to the mid-1990s,” Chief Investment Officer Gary Martin wrote in an email to The Mac Weekly.

Harrison noted that, because modern communities are looking to develop more renewable energy sources, these investments may not remain so stable in coming years.

“If you look at other indices of investment portfolios and in the past five years, generally the indices that have been controlled to take away oil investments have done better because of the volatility in that market,” Harrison said.

Once the presentation concluded, FFM took questions from the LB. “You’re saying that over the next few years, oil and gas is going to be a bad investment,” Financial Affairs Committee (FAC) member Kaarin Khandelwal ’20 said. “If it is going to be a bad investment, why don’t you leave it to the investment managers to decide if it’s going to be a bad investment … If it’s going to be a good investment, why not get those dollars?”

“We feel very strongly it’s very hypocritical that Macalester has these investments when they very actively recruit international students and they have this image of service to society,” McPhillips responded. “Macalester students are ‘do-gooders’ who are going to go out and change the world and then [the school has] these investments that have undeniable externalities.” On top of drafting a divestment proposal, the org leaders have researched other entities that have successfully divested, paying special attention to the divestment of Macalester’s peer institutions to convince the Board of the movement’s popularity.

“[Middlebury College] divested a week or so ago, and they’re a very similar, comparable college to ours when it comes to these investments in particular,” Phillips-Norelle said. “They had around $55 million [in] direct investments and an endowment of $1.1 billion, so it’s even more than our endowment.”

FFM has also been in contact with President Brian Rosenberg and Student Liaison to the Board of Trustees Calvin Dretske ’19 about ways to convince the Board they should divest from oil and gas partnerships.

“We met with President Brian Rosenberg this morning, and we brought the idea of holding a student referendum to show the Board of Trustees that there is more support than just this group of us,” Lewis-Norelle said.

FFM may move forward with this plan and sponsor an official MCSG referendum that would call the student body to vote on the organization’s resolution. President Malik Mays ’19 ended the presentation and discussion, noting that the LB will likely talk about the referendum more at next week’s meeting.