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?