Sustainable Investments Task Force
8/27/13 Meeting Minutes
Task force members in attendance were: Jim Chambers (Chair, via telephone), Mara Donaldson, Michelle Fisher, Michael Fratantuono, Steve Hietsch, Will Kochtitzky, Adam Laird.
Absent was: Margaret Lindsay (Co-Chair).
Others in attendance were: Stephanie Balmer (VP for Enrollment, Marketing & Communications), Keith Gillespie (Assistant Treasurer), Chris VanBuskirk (Associate VP for Advancement and Associate Provost), Anthony Underwood (Assistant Professor of Economics).
Guests participating by telephone were: Marc Spitzer, Partner – Steptoe & Johnson; Keith Wilson, EVP & CFO - Sweetwater Energy.
Chair Jim Chambers called the meeting to order at 10:35 AM.
Jim C. began by saying the approval of the meeting minutes will be done after the meeting. He asked the committee to review the minutes and discuss any changes together via email. Upon committee approval an email will be sent to all.
Jim introduced Stephanie Balmer to the committee for her presentation on the potential effect of divestment on admissions and student demand. Stephanie said she is somewhat aware of the work of this task force. She will speak about the theory that divestment from fossil fuels would have a positive effect on demand and other admissions metrics. She used the following “divested” institutions to gauge the potential effects of divestment on admissions: Hampshire, Unity, The College of the Atlantic, San Francisco State University and Green Mountain College. She collaborated with Institutional Research and got a sense of the representative institutions and what we learned since their decisions to divest. The danger of trying to attribute changes to a single change of policy such as divestment of fossil fuels is clear enough. But they simply are not able to provide data to the group today to provide a sense of the impact of divestment on admissions demand. They looked at the other schools’ websites and have no frozen census data to use. They are without data until year one of the divestment cycle has been published for public use. The challenge for us is that we would love to able to provide data to support or negate the theory. We do not have a baseline that we can establish at this time in terms of looking at the effect among others that it may have had on admissions demand.
Jim asked if admissions staff are getting questions or inquiries divestment. Stephanie said she asked her staff who indicated the parents are not asking counseling staff about the colleges’ position and that could be based upon two things. 1. They are informed based upon the information available on the college website in terms of the college’s current position and what work is underway. 2. The divestment issue represents the interest of a small segment of the potential applicant pool, from whom we have not heard. Those are the two possibilities. We have had a number of families who visited over the summer months who comment on our CESE microsite and the Sustainable Investing tab on the website which for those who have interest is a nice repository that is transparent in terms of Dickinson’s position. The task force has the Admissions division’s attention on this. They will be watching these 5 institutions this year and will be able to build a baseline once those institutions have published data. 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 will be benchmark years. The impact will not be seen until 2013-2014 or maybe not until 2014-2015.
Neil Leary asked how any issues that receive a lot of coverage, negative or mixed, has measurable effects on admissions. Stephanie said campus safety can affect applications and enrollment trends. From her perspective this is a new era we are entering. As we continue to attract and enroll increasingly sensitive students and faculty who are deeply passionate about these topics we will begin to see a cause and effect that can lead to enrollment increases and decreases. At this time campus safety and an institution’s moral character have more of an effect. We are in a new era to begin investigating.
Jim moved on to talk about the website. Steve said it is very basic at this point. They want feedback from the committee so they can fine tune it. Steve said Will asked about adding more info on Reinvest Dickinson on the website. Jim said they are trying to get as much information up as possible. They did need to cut the Investure presentation way back for legal reasons (confidentiality agreements that Investure has with its fund managers). They are checking to see if the Investure recording is able to be posted. Steve expressed his appreciation for Max’s help with the website. The website is live now; we just need to add some additional links. Steve said he will let the committee know when the website is complete.
Jim turned the meeting over to Chris Van Buskirk for her presentation on potential effects of divestment on fundraising. She used the same methodology as Stephanie (examining philanthropy results at institutions which have divested). In doing so she found philanthropy has an even longer lag time than admissions in changes on campuses because prospective students are looking at what is current. Donors are not usually as well informed as students. We use the website to call the changes and issues to donor’s attention. These institutions that have recently made changes are a little early in the process to see that impact on philanthropy. At Dickinson initiatives from the development side to help support sustainability started in the grants area. In 2004 the college received a Luce Foundation Grant for environmental curriculum issues where students went to Mississippi and did research. The whole idea of infusing sustainability into the curriculum was born of that experience. Sustainability was further integrated into the curriculum in 2007 when the college received the Mellon Grant. This grant helped fund the CSE, fund a professor in environmental health and supported research in the summers. The grant had a matching endowment portion which the college was required to provide. But donors did not respond to it very well. It was with a very limited number of donors who did. Chris VB reported that we used a new way to identify donors interested in sustainability, and were getting great traction with it in terms of being identified with lists of green colleges and getting good marks on sustainability report cards. In April 2010 the college held a Sustainability Symposium to help with planning and get alumni engaged. We looked at alumni records to find people who might be interested in the symposium. We also tried to identify people who would be good donors to participate. We did not have large attendance or any direct donations as a result of the symposium. Chris thinks it will change over time as we are identified as a school where sustainable interests are preeminent in our curriculum and how we operate. The international initiative at Dickinson is 30-40 years old. We are relatively new with the sustainability initiative. It will take time for this identity to establish itself with donors. The web and student groups will be very helpful to get the word out. Sustainability has been part of the fundraising efforts for the Greenhouse and Rector building projects. Respondents to those efforts were not especially interested in the green elements. The donor pool needs a lot of education. In fact, when donors were asked to weigh in on the college’s strategic plan, among the one or two things questioned most frequently was sustainability. They asked why this should be part of Dickinson and why it was important. They wanted to invest in things they think are important such as scholarships and academic program. We will see a change in the future. We will see current students who are more involved become donors in the future. That does not mean we should not make the push now. Sustainability is part of the larger Dickinson story and becoming more of what the students experience at Dickinson. Jim asked if anyone out there is asking about divestment either positively or negatively. Chris said donor response is so individualistic. The fact that we have been trying to tell the sustainability story in all of our fund raising efforts and have not gotten much response to it suggests to her that there is not necessarily a negative reaction from donors about the notion of sustainability but there might be questions about why the college is doing this. Why is this important enough to take a risk? Donors sometimes ask about how the money is managed especially if it is a significant gift. They want to make sure we are making good use of their money and that their donation will make an impact.
Mara was interested in the way we received the grants before we got the donors Are there any more grants we can get? Chris said there are some out there. They are continuing to look for grants. They help to tell great programming stories.
The meeting was turned over to Mike Fratantuono who introduced the faculty and alumni who participated in the panel discussion. They were: were alumni Marc Spitzer and Keith Wilson and faculty member Anthony Underwood. The recording of the panel discussion can be accessed under the Energy Economics tab at the following link: http://www.dickinson.edu/about/sustainability/sitf/home
Tony began by giving a presentation to provide an overview of the renewable and non-renewable energy sectors as a foundation for the discussion to follow. Marc and Keith each gave the committee an opening statement summarizing their backgrounds and shared personal philosophies, general ideas and concepts on the subject in an educational manner. At the conclusion of Marc and Keith’s opening statements discussion was opened up to the committee for questions. The resulting discussion can be reviewed via the audio file on the SITF website at the above link.
Tony Underwood’s presentation is attached as part of the minutes.
Mike thanked Keith, Mark & Tony for their time and noted it was very helpful to the group.
Jim moved on to talk about the structure for the next meeting on September 24. Mike & Mara will give their discussion and the balance of the meeting will be devoted to discussion of Section I of the work plan that has been completed. (Note that this plan was subsequently changed, as documented by 9/9 email from Steve Hietsch. The 9/24 meeting will feature additional presentations and the discussion of Section I will be reserved for the 9/27 meeting, when more task force members will be available to attend the meeting in person.)
Adam Laird said he may do a class essay on ethical investments. Jim said perhaps we could include that as part of the next meeting.
Jim thanked Mike for bringing together the panel discussion. It was a great perspective for the committee as we move forward. The members of the committee agreed.
Jim proposed the committee approve the minutes from the July meeting by email.
Jim also talked about the feedback questions previously distributed. He wants to make sure the committee is comfortable we are on track with the issues.
Steve indicated the group has been sending emails about the feedback questions. He feels those have been answered appropriately. He added Investure is working on some things. One is they are trying to coordinate a discussion directly with one of their core managers if they can find one who is willing to do it. That discussion would be about whether the fossil fuel investments are over-valued and whether our investment strategy should be modified because of this.
Mara mentioned the Sustainability Analyst position that has not been hired by Investure and asked if we can follow up with Alice Handy about what is going on with it.
Jim said we will begin Section II of the work plan on September 27 with Neil Weissman and Neil Leary. (Note that Neil Weissman and Neil Leary will not attend the 9/24 meeting, per the subsequent modification of the work plan.)
There being no further business before the task force, the meeting was adjourned at 12:35 PM.