Pitzer administration, activists meet; results are mixed

A cardboard sign hung near an encampment at the Pitzer College Mounds on April 27 read “Gaza Solidarity Encampment.” Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo

By Andrew Alonzo | aalonzo@claremont-courier.com

Discussions between representatives from Pitzer College’s pro-Palestinian encampment, Pitzer President Strom Thacker, and Pitzer Board of Trustees Chair Don Gould took place May 3, and the takeaway was mixed.

In a message posted to pitzer.edu signed by Thacker and Gould, Pitzer agreed to “make material disclosure of its holdings in military and weapons manufacturers, if any,” by June 30; and to have the board of trustees “review its policy on endowment disclosure” over the summer, with the goal of beginning to provide that information not later than September 30.

“Such disclosure will be subject to the legal limitations Pitzer has agreed to with the fund manager, but we are confident the disclosure will be sufficiently detailed to satisfy the request,” the message read. “The Board of Trustees earnestly manages the endowment for the benefit and endurance of the College and is amenable to helping the Pitzer community better understand its investment strategies.”

Pitzer’s statement included an invitation for the community read it in its entirety, including details about the college’s endowment and investment strategies, at pitzer.edu/president (click on “Messages from the Board of Trustees”).

“Consequently, the Board takes very seriously its fiduciary duty to manage the endowment prudently,” Gould wrote. “The Board has and will continue to consider Pitzer values in determining investment policy.”

Claremont Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace at the Claremont Colleges issued a joint statement following the talks. In it, they claim Gould told them the board of trustees will “never be dictated by College Council votes.”

“This statement, which follows President Thacker’s undemocratic veto of a complete academic boycott of Israeli universities, shows us that the Board does not respect Pitzer’s shared governance principles,” the statement read. “Until Pitzer College concedes to the above demands of disclosure and divestment, students will continue to escalate.”

Student demonstrators said last week that until action is achieved on all their demands the encampment at Pitzer would remain. The encampment, located on Pitzer’s Commencement Plaza, was dismantled by students on May 5. Another pro-Palestinian student activist group set up an encampment at Pomona College on Monday.

In the Pitzer statement, Gould also addressed one of the student’s main demands, that Pitzer divest from corporations that are connected to Israel. “Regarding divestment, the Board has consistently held that divestment must be a rare action and, as a prerequisite, must reflect near unanimous support across all College constituencies,” Gould wrote. “We also do not believe that taking positions on any number of contentious geopolitical issues is in the College’s best interests. Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict specifically, the Board has deliberately not taken actions that could imply the College has adopted an institutional position on the conflict.

“… the Board must consider the practical implications of any divestment request. The potential benefit of any proposed divestment must be weighed against the administrative and financial costs of making such a change. These policies will continue to guide the Board’s future decisions on divestment within the endowment.”

The activists’ joint statement noted, “this is the first time in Pitzer’s history that there has been any form of disclosure of the endowment. The power of student organizing is putting pressure on the administration and Board of Trustees to expose their investments in human rights violations,” it read. “We have gained vital information necessary for future divestment; however, information without action is not enough. We demand disclosure of any direct investments in the military sector and in companies that are complicit with human rights violations under international law. Chair Don Gould has committed to disclosing the names of individual companies that make up investments in the military sector if legally able to do so. We must hold the Board to this commitment and demand more.

“Pitzer must now commit to amending this ‘responsible’ investment policy to include divestment from companies that consistently, knowingly, and directly facilitate and enable human rights violations and violations of international law. This change in policy should take place in accordance with Pitzer’s shared governance principles, in collaboration with students, faculty, and staff. It should include a deadline by which a plan will be in place to implement this new policy and mechanisms for reporting on its continued implementation.”

Three students and a faculty member met with Thacker and Gould just after 11 a.m. May 3. The talks ended before 2 p.m.

In the section of Pitzer’s statement titled, “Pitzer College – A Leader in Responsible Investing,” Gould wrote the board divested from fossil fuel stocks in 2014, and, about the same time, “the Board committed to consider environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors in determining which stocks to hold in the endowment portfolio. That commitment was realized in 2017 after a 3-year process, when Pitzer’s endowment became the lead investor in a new fund that it helped design.” That fund now has more than $900 million in assets, Gould wrote, and has delivered good performance, and “its low-cost structure saves the College hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.”

“The fund applies a dynamic ESG screening process, investing relatively greater amounts in the stocks of companies achieving above-average ESG scores, as determined by an independent third party,” the message read. “As companies change and the ways of measuring E, S, and G evolve, the fund changes in step. In summary, Pitzer’s responsible investing continuously adapts over time.”

The fund balances responsible investment goals with requirements such as “broad diversification” in order to sustain Pitzer operations, Gould wrote. “… the College does not select the individual stocks that make up the fund’s portfolio, and as only one of many investors in the fund, Pitzer cannot dictate changes to the fund’s underlying holdings.”

Gould said the board’s investment committee will continue to include input from appointed faculty and student body representatives.

“The Board welcomes inquiries and suggestions about the endowment from all College constituencies, and always seeks to help the broader community understand the purpose and management of the endowment,” Gould wrote.

In addition to demanding Pitzer divest and disclose, the student activist groups are also demanding the college adhere to an academic boycott of Israeli institutions via resolution 60-R-5, which Thacker said on April 11 he would veto; for Pitzer to reexamine its protest policy and support student demonstration rights; and to nullify discipline actions against the five Pitzer students arrested for occupying Alexander Hall on April 5.


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