October 16, 2012
Press Release Authors Come Clean: A Call for Middlebury College to Do the Same
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 the Dalai Lama Welcoming Committee, a group of students concerned that the College embraces practices inconsistent with its own proclaimed values.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama told the College, “Education is supposed to reduce the gap between appearance and reality.” The intent of the press release was to bring attention to the unsettling reality that Middlebury has millions of dollars invested in industries of violence, while it appears 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 the College’s portfolio. 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. The choice to value monetary gain over human life epitomizes the declaration of His Holiness that “we have become slaves of money.”
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: Bill McKibben—founder of 350.org and Middlebury College Schumann Distinguished Scholar in Residence—recently kicked off the national “Do the Math” campaign. It is focused on urging universities to divest from fossil fuels because “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.”
The Dalai Lama stated in his final lecture at the College that “peace will come through our active action.” With this action, the Dalai Lama Welcoming Committee instilled a sense of urgency in the community. The administration attempted to expel the students; however, their effort ultimately backfired. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education quickly voiced their concern regarding the school choosing to clamp down on students’ rights to free speech. The students were granted an open hearing. In front of an audience of 272 people, filling the largest auditorium on campus, they articulated the tradition upon which they drew and morals that compelled them to act. Not only did the judicial board give the students no official College discipline, they expressed their true desire to see Middlebury divest from violence and environmental destruction.
Discourse has shifted on campus and across the state of Vermont. Divestment to align Middlebury’s practices with its values has transformed from an illusory pontification to an absolute imperative. There is a growing contingent of prospective students, current students, alumni, faculty, and staff who are coming together to leverage their power to affect their community. In so doing, they collectively assert that while Middlebury indeed exerts a global influence, it must not do so carelessly. By taking responsibility, Middlebury can contribute towards making the 21st century, as the Dalai Lama insisted, “the century of peace.”
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
Note: Tim Schornak is not affiliated with any formal student organization.