(UPDATED 10/26/12) Press release sent out to College claims Middlebury will divest from war

10/26/12: A letter endorsed by several faculty members in support of the Dalai Lama Welcoming Committee was posted on MiddNotes today. Here is what it says:

Lately professors all over the country and here at Middlebury have been trying to answer the question, “Why liberal arts?” Although the answer is complex, it’s also quite simple. A good liberal arts education produces critically engaged citizens. In other words, people who can get information, analyze it and yes, think about it. As civically engaged citizens, students of the liberal arts are then very often moved to action.

This is exactly what happened last week when a group of Middlebury students decided to push the College to think about how we make our money. The students did this by sending out a fake press release stating that in conjunction with the Dalai Lama’s visit, Middlebury would be divesting itself from all companies that make a profit from war.

The press release was not a joke, but a protest. It pointed out the contradiction of saying we support peaceful solutions and simultaneously taking money from weapons’ manufacturers. It also points out the contradiction between being “carbon neutral” and getting dividends from Big Oil.

This action occurred not because Middlebury is more hypocritical than other institutions. It’s not. But because Middlebury is incredibly good at producing critically engaged citizens.

We the undersigned would like to publicly share our support with the students for pushing all of us to put our money where our mouths and our values are. We also want to applaud them for highlighting the power of a liberal arts education in producing critically engaged citizens.

Submitted by ROBERT COHEN, Professor of English and American Literatures; LAURIE ESSIG, Associate Professor of Sociology and Women’s and Gender Studies; PETER HAMLIN, Christian A. Johnson Professor of Music; PETER MATTHEWS, James B. Jermain Professor of Political Economy; SUJATA MOORTI, Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies; KEVIN MOSS, Jean Thompson Fulton Professor of Modern Language and Literature; MARGARET NELSON, A. Barton Hepburn Professor of Sociology; MIKE OLINICK, Professor of Mathematics;  LINUS OWENS, Associate Professor of Sociology; ELLEN OXFELD, Gordon Schuster Professor of Anthropology; JAY PARINI, D.E. Axinn Professor of English and Creative Writing; DAVID STOLL, Professor of Anthropology; YUMNA SIDDIQI, Associate Professor of English and American Literatures; STEVE SNYDER, Kawashima Professor of Japanese Studies; HECTOR VILA, Assistant Professor of Writing; GREG VITERCIK, Professor of Music.

Update 10/25/12: The Campus came out today with a comprehensive article covering the Dalai Lama Welcoming Committee’s press release action. The Campus opinions section was also full of op-eds related to DLWC and divestment, including the Campus’s editorial (which raises some great points–definitely worth reading). One of the most interesting perspectives on divestment came in an op-ed written by a prospective student and endorsed by a group of her peer prospective students who belong to a program called Discover Middlebury.

A couple of events concerning the endowment and divestment will be happening this weekend, starting tonight at 8:30 PM in Axinn 219 with a student panel called “Divesting for our Future.” Also, the DLWC will hold a general assembly tomorrow at 4PM in the Warner Hemicycle.

Update 10/20/12: The Dalai Lama Welcoming Committee has come out with another poster, going into more detail about the problems they see with Middlebury’s endowment and what action they want to take to start addressing them. They also announced they will have a public hearing on Thursday, November 1st at 3PM to determine what will come of the charges brought against them.

In the meantime, the growing DLWC will be outside Proctor and Ross today from 11:30AM-2PM gathering more support. They will also be holding a public forum next Friday October, 26 in the Warner Hemicycle at 4PM.

Update 10/18/12: As the student activists who call themselves the Dalai Lama Welcoming Committee wait to hear what disciplinary action will be taken against them, they have  continued to reach out for support for their cause and their press release and letter have begun to receive statewide media attention. Read MiddBlog’s post on the media coverage they’ve received here.

Update 10/17/12: MiddBlog has received Middlebury College’s official statement concerning this incident. Here it is:

Middlebury College Statement
Oct. 17, 2012

Last week, a small group of students circulated a fake press release on Middlebury’s endowment practices, purportedly from the college’s Communications Office. The college appreciates that these students have now admitted to creating the fake release. We do not believe, however, that the Dalai Lama’s message about working toward a more peaceful world sanctioned the use of deceptive means to achieve desired ends.  Neither that release nor a statement sent to the media by the students on Tuesday, Oct. 16, came from the Middlebury College Office of Communications, and the students are not members of any official “Dalai Lama Welcoming Committee.”    

The college takes seriously its community standards and policies related to communicating with honesty and integrity, respect for others, and the responsible and ethical use of library and information services and electronic messages.  The college is investigating this matter and whether those policies were violated in this instance, and will take disciplinary action if warranted.

As an institution of higher education, Middlebury College welcomes and encourages critical discourse and learning opportunities guided by mutual respect, including discussions of its endowment management policies. The college held an open session last year to talk about the endowment and investment strategy with students and other members of the college community. The gathering was spirited and informative and demonstrated how committed some students are to working with the administration to ensure that our financial health and goals are in line with the college’s mission. We plan to continue fostering open, well-informed discussions on this topic and other important issues facing the college. We do not sanction misuse of college resources, however, in whatever form that takes.

Update 10/16/12: Students posing as “Tim Shornak” and the “Dalai Lama Welcoming Committee” the Middlebury Communications Office and calling themselves Tim Shornak and the Dalai Lama Welcoming Committee have come forward to claim responsibility for the fake press release sent to to many students, administrators and local news sources last Friday announcing that the school had divested from war and fossil fuels in honor of the Dalai Lama’s visit. The group, which includes Molly Stuart 15.5, Jay Saper ‘13, Jenny Marks ‘14.5, Sam Koplinka-Loehr ‘13 and Amitai Ben-Abba ‘15.5, came clean by posting around campus a letter that they sent to Middlebury’s administration today.  The letter, which can be read in its entirety on the group’s blog, says, “We apologize for creating an excitement that is not yet warranted, and call on the college community to take action.”

Stuart says the group derived inspiration to approach the issue in such a way from the Yes Men and “a lot of the lessons we’ve learned from our classes here at Middlebury that teach us about…social responsibility.”

Apparently people involved with the press release have had interviews with local news sources, including Vermont Public Radio, inquiring about the action, which fooled many.

They have not, however, heard from the administration since sending them the letter today, nor has MiddBlog, who reached out to the administration for comment earlier this evening. We will post the administration’s comment when we get it.

Update 10/13/12: As readers can see in the comment below, Director of Public Affairs Sarah Ray has confirmed that the press release was not issued by the College and is fraudulent.

Original Post 10/12/12: This evening a press release of dubious origin was sent out to various members of the Middebury College community announcing that in honor of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s visit, Middlebury College will fully divest from war and fossil fuel industries.

The detailed press release quotes both President Ron Leibowitz and and Ellen McKay, administrative program coordinator for the for the Charles P. Scott Center of Religious Life. It also mentions many backed-up facts, including Bill McKibben’s 350.org college coal divesting campaign and last spring’s public forum with Investure–the company that manages our endowment.

It says, in addition, that “a student club supporting socially responsible investing” helped push the College to make this decision. However, after talking to leaders of the Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) group, MiddBlog confirmed they were not aware of the press release, and although there have been murmurs about SRI breaking big news soon, this was not it. SRI leader Ben Chute ‘13.5 said that although SRI hopes the news is true, “we had no prior knowledge of [the press release], we had nothing to do with it. We haven’t heard from the administration about whether it’s true or not.”

Tim Shornak, the apparent author of the press release and member of the “Dalai Lama Welcoming Committee” apparently does not exist, at least not in the Middlbury College system. Moreover, although it says it’s from the College Office of Communications, the email address is from a Gmail account.

Whether or not this press release is legitimate or the news is true, it will be interesting to see how the administration responds. If they do say the divestment mentioned in the press release is not true, it will reveal a tension between what Middlebury implicitly supports with its money (namely war and the fossil fuel industry) and what Middlebury more openly supports by welcoming people such as the Dalai Lama and Bill McKibben to the College–figures that stand for peace and environmental responsibility.

MiddBlog readers, what do you think about this press release? President Leibowitz, are you reading this? If so, is this true? If not, does that mean that, in fact, Middlebury does invest in weapons and fossil fuels? If that’s true, what does that say about the disparity between the values in Middlebury’s mission statement and what we are supporting with our money? Does our investment in war and fossil fuels take anything away from having the Dalai Lama at our institution?

Letter sent out claiming that the College is divesting from war.

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21 thoughts on “(UPDATED 10/26/12) Press release sent out to College claims Middlebury will divest from war

  1. Great post Luke! We await a response from the President on the challenging and so important questions you pose. This has certainly started conversations. We here in the Munford commons room are talking about the meaning and embedded responsibility in Dalai Lama’s statement today: “21st century must be a century of peace.” We wonder whether or not the institution has lived up to this challenge, beyond the introductory remarks made on stage today by leading administrators. What is our role as students in ensuring that college’s presence in the larger world aligns with the values declared in its mission statement? We as students have power when we organize conversations are beginning and, as the Dalai Lama said, “Dialogue is stronger than force.” We, however, must take our words beyond our circles and move them into action.

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  3. The press release was fraudulent. It was not issued by the college.

    • Thomas, I find your loaded question offensive. If you truly want to become informed about the state of Middlebury College’s endowment, then I suggest that you inquire in a more polite way, such as a private email. It would be more likely to earn you some answers.

    • I am a little concerned by the fact that you find direct questions offensive in light of Middlebury College telling the world that it stands behind peace while actively engaging in its destruction. I find your warped set of concerns offensive.
      Do you know tear-gas was invented at Middlebury? Would you tell the Palestinian choking on Middlebury-sponsored teargas at a demonstration against Israeli occupation to go send an email to over-paid officials?
      Don’t be offended by my confrontational tone. I’m glad you were moved enough to share your thoughts, but I am not looking for an answer. The answer is quite clear to anyone who wishes to see it. Refreshingly, I’m hoping for action.

  4. I’m curious to see how the college administration will respond to this press release. Thanks for reporting on it.

  5. Thomas,

    You don’t have a monopoly on morality. The world is not black and white, the world is not so simple. So stop pretending like it is. It’s never going to be perfect so you make do with what you got, and that means looking at everything relatively.

  6. SRI Team Addresses Fake Press Release and Announces Big News | MiddBlog

  7. Fake press release calling for divestment receives statewide media attention | MiddBlog

  8. Dear Middlebury,

    As an alum who actively worked on SRI issues for the college from 2005-2009, it is awesome to see this recent effort by students to better align our college’s endowment decisions with its overall mission. Money is one of the most powerful tools we can use to create positive change in our world. It is also one of our greatest obstacles.

    I am uninformed about the exact workings of this Dalai Lama Committee but I commend their courage. They have shown a willingness to risk their own self-interest for the potential of creating great benefit for many people they will never know. I look forward to hearing about how their action continues the discussion of making Middlebury’s endowment more socially responsible and, hopefully, see some more concrete changes to our investment strategy as a result.

    Best,
    Nate Blumenshine ‘09.5

  9. When I saw this press release (before I knew it was fraudulent), I got very excited thinking that the College had finally begun to make some socially responsible investing choices (thinking also that perhaps the Dalai Lama’s message of peace had been enough to sway the Board of Trustees and the managers at Investure…) Alas, it was not to be.

    Thanks to the creative student team that sent this out. I hope that Middlebury students will continue to push the Board to change its investment strategy to match the principles that Middlebury, as an internationally-minded institution of higher education, should model for other endowments. Let’s move that money!

  10. Courage? Let’s not go overboard. Only after the group knew the administration was gaining their identities through an all-campus email did the individuals identify themselves. After the fact. That is hardly courageous. Courage would have been to identify themselves up front, put their values on the line rather than hide behind some false press release. Natsu is on point.

  11. Although fake release has an obvious impact on encouraging reflection on Middlebury’s money source, students could have taken a better approach with no offence to both college and the press release receivers.

  12. I agree with Yabin. The issue is not the issue, so to speak. The cause is a good one. But the issue is the how the students did this. Why the deception? Why the fraudulence? Both are problematic and possibly violate state laws, not to mention our own community standards, expectations, and rules.

    One’s support of the cause cannot mask the way this was done. Why didn’t the students just put their names on a document and do things in the open as the SRI students have been doing? Seems like instant gratification trumped fairness and the value of owning an issue. Just imagine if all students felt entitled to ignore rules to make a point. And just imagine if the same tactics were used to advance a cause with which the majority on our campus disagreed —- e.g., bringing back Greek organizations; anti-abortion advocacy; or supporting Mitt Romney(!). I would wager there would little sympathy for those students as they faced a judicial hearing. I applaud the students’ passion and the cause; I oppose strongly their chosen methods.

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