On Friday, October 12, 2012, Middlebury College welcomed His Holiness the Dalai Lama to campus. An announcement was made that in honor of the visit from the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize Recipient, the College had chosen to demonstrate ethical leadership in divesting its endowment from war and environmental destruction. In reality, the satirical notice about Middlebury’s divestment was written by us, a group of students concerned that the College embraces practices inconsistent with its own proclaimed values. We apologize for creating an excitement that is not yet warranted, and call on the college community to take action.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama told the College, “Education is supposed to reduce the gap between appearance and reality.” Our intent was to bring attention to the unsettling reality that Middlebury has millions of dollars invested in industries of violence, while we appear to stand for universal compassion and peace.
Middlebury College has not received better than a “C” on endowment transparency from the College Sustainability Report Card. While the specific companies in which the endowment is invested have never been disclosed to the student body, Investure—the firm that manages Middlebury’s endowment—confirmed last spring that they do not screen for arms manufacturing, military contractors, or fossil fuel companies. Given that these are among the most profitable industries in existence, it is safe to say that they are included in our portfolio. Our complicity has on-the-ground implications: US-made weapons fueling the drug wars in Mexico, drone attacks killing civilians in Pakistan, and the Keystone XL pipeline threatening communities from Canada to the Gulf. Our choice to value monetary gain over human life epitomizes the declaration of His Holiness that “we have become slaves of money. We put too much emphasis on money, facilities, fame.
In the classrooms, we continue to learn about how to best be global citizens and address the challenges of today, but the chairs in our rooms, the books in our libraries, and the paychecks of our professors are funded by returns from corporations and organizations that are fueling war and environmental degradation. While the benefits reaped from these returns maintain comfort and complacency, the only way to assuage our ethical dissonance is to act now and divest.
There is a long history of academic institutions divesting to demonstrate their values. In the 1980s, for instance, over one hundred and fifty colleges, including Middlebury, divested from South African companies to oppose apartheid. Today, a new call to divest is being heard around the nation: last Saturday, Bill McKibben—founder of 350.org and Middlebury College Schumann Distinguished Scholar in Residence—kicked off the national “Do the Math” campaign, urging universities to divest from fossil fuels. According to the campaign, “It just doesn’t make sense for universities to invest in a system that will leave their students no livable planet to use their degrees on.” We have divested in the past; why doesn’t Middlebury embrace divesting from war and fossil fuels today?
The Dalai Lama stated in his final lecture at the College that “peace will come through our active action.” While our endowment funds the dropping of bombs thousands of miles away, their reverberations echo through the halls of our campus. We have no luxury of delay. We must take responsibility now, and contribute towards making the 21st century, as the Dalai Lama insisted, “the century of peace.”
Vermont media is already stepping up to make the call (Seven Days 10/18/12: “Middlebury College Prank Turns Focus on Endowment,” VT Digger 10/18/12: “Middlebury Students Distribute Fake Press Release Claiming College Divested ‘Industries of Violence’ Investments,” and VPR News 10/18/12: “Hoax Press Release Authors Call for Middlebury Divestment”). Please join us in raising our voices together at go/compassion.
Tim Schornak, Director of the College Office of Communications of the Dalai Lama Welcoming Committee,
AKA: Molly Stuart 15.5, Jay Saper ‘13, Jenny Marks ‘14.5, Sam Koplinka-Loehr ‘13, Amitai Ben-Abba ‘15.5, and a growing contingent.
Please note: Tim Schornak is not affiliated with any formal student organization.