An Open Letter to the Davidson College President and Board, from Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaigners

To President Carol Quillen, and the Davidson College Board of Trustees:

“Davidson alumni, faculty, staff and students stand out as game changers- questioning the status quo and pushing themselves and others to achieve more than they thought possible, thereby offering what the world needs most from them.” So says the website for Davidson's new, five-year, $425 million capital campaign.

We, as #davidsongamechangers, hold ourselves to high standards. We do so, not only because we represent a prestigious liberal arts college, but because we take pride in our pioneering commitments to such institutions as the Davidson Trust and the Honor Code. A game changer is a leader: someone who challenges the wrongs that hold influence in our society, and who cultivates a disproportionate impact for good. While often we succeed in our game changing maxims, sometimes we fall short. This was particularly evident last spring, when, after a successful student referendum, Davidson’s Board of Trustees failed to divest our endowment from the world’s most harmful fossil fuel corporations.

Since then, however, the divestment movement has achieved huge victories. These include partial or full divestment commitments from schools such as Pitzer College, Stanford University, the University of Dayton, San Francisco State University, the University of Glasgow in the UK, Australian National University, and Victoria University in New Zealand. Several non-academic institutions have joined, including several American cities, and Oxford in England.  Notably, in September, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund pledged to fully divest its 844 million dollars from fossil fuels, despite embodying Standard Oil's legacy.

Though President Quillen claimed that the trustees “could not find that divestiture would accomplish the stated goals of undermining the fossil fuel industry and sending a message to the world about our commitment to the environment,” fossil fuel executives have since responded to the growing power behind divestment with evident stress and frustration. In Australia, coal executive Paul Flynn cried, “this is green imperialism telling us what to do,” after Australian National University chose to divest from select coal corporations. Exxon and Shell have also joined the desperate chorus of divestment detractors through online posts and public presentations — reinforcing our argument that colleges and universities carry the social capital to effectively challenge some of the greatest economic power holders in our country and in our world. The fossil fuel industry is scared of us.       

This is all to say that as members of the Davidson community, we undoubtedly have the power to challenge the status quo. The momentum of divestment is inevitable, but the question is whether we will be leaders in this movement or followers (as we were in our late divestment from South African Apartheid.) Davidson is an elite liberal arts college, an academic leader of the South and home to perhaps the strongest honor code in the country. As game changers, it is our calling to challenge degradation of our climate, corruption of our political systems, and the marginalization of often unheard community groups resisting oppression. We are poised to be leaders in the fight against the abuses of the fossil fuel industry, called to provide “what the world needs most from us.”

Students, alumni and faculty repeatedly note a lack of dialogue with the Board of Trustees. We feel that, despite demonstrated support, voices for divestment (and other student issues) on Davidson’s campus go largely unrepresented. Supposedly operating with students' interests in mind, the trustees ignore the demands of students. This lack of representation under the guise of good will is frustrating, deceptive and undemocratic.

Davidson aims to change the game and send leaders into our society. We therefore have a vocation and a duty to challenge the fossil fuel industry and pave the way for divestment across the country. We ask you, the Board, to put fossil fuel divestment on the agenda of your next meeting from February 4-6 in Charlotte, and to allow students to attend and play an active role in your discussion. We acknowledge your good intentions, but we also contend the only way to truly serve the student body is to allow us legitimate representation.


Evans Schmedtje, Hannah Lukow, Ben Wiley and Marisa Wilson