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Alum returns honorary degree in protest

Last Friday, David Loy ’69 came to Carleton to return his honorary doctorate degree to bring attention to and to support the ongoing movement to divest the College from fossil fuels. Loy received his honorary degree in 2014 for distinguished achievement in Buddhist  teaching and scholarship. The Alumni Council website describes him as “one of the most influential and prolific Buddhist thinkers in the world today.” He has traveled internationally teaching about Buddhism and modernity.

The Board of Trustees’ decision in November 2015 to not divest the College from its holdings in the fossil fuel industry motivated Loy to his decision. “It’s a way of highlighting the position of the Board here and a way of putting some pressure on the Board of Trustees. It is one more person making a statement,” Loy explained.

Loy said that upon hearing the Board’s statement, “it took me a little while to realize that I felt so strongly about it [divestment] that I would want to do this. It’s just one more little thing adding to a much broader movement to encourage the Trustees to consider divestment more seriously.” Loy mentioned that returning his degree could viewed as embarrassing for the administration, but he was quick to clarify that the move was not meant to reflect on the institution or his experience at Carleton. “It is by no means a sign of lack of appreciation,” he said. “I am still very grateful for my experience as a student here and am appreciative of the degree, but it is a way of calling attention to the problem.”

The issue of divestment is a controversial one on campus and has been part of an ongoing and active movement reflected in campuses across the country. One fear that Loy mentioned the Board of Trustees might be facing is that of setting a precedent of behavior. If the school divests from fossil fuels will it next need to divest from other controversial industries they might have holdings in?

However, Loy pointed out that Carleton cannot avoid the question through inaction.  “Investment is not a morally neutral issue. Where we put our money is, like it or not, a sign of our involvement in something. Investment is not something that should be done just thinking in terms of highest returns, but we do need to look at these moral concerns.” Loy argued that the College’s investments should be more accountable to moral and community values.

“When the rest of the Carleton community raises these questions, these are questions that the Board of Trustees should consider in good faith, acknowledging that the only issue is not return on investment, but that there are inevitably moral implications for whatever they invest in.”

In order to bring attention to his action Loy has been reaching out to his Carleton community, Northfield News and the alumni divestment movement. Divest Carleton, a student group on campus helped to organize a talk that Loy  gave in conjunction with the returning of the degree. About 40 people attended the event. Allie Tucker ’18, a leader of the student Divest Carleton movement, explained that “Loy contacted the alums who he knew were involved [in the divestment movement] and then the alums contacted us to see if we were interested in working with them.

“He emailed President Poskanzer that he wanted to return his degree, but he wanted to make a public statement, so he asked if we could help publicize an event and help reserve a room. It is hard to do as an outside of campus speaker.”

The talk was funded by neither Divest Carleton nor Carleton itself, but rather by Loy.  The audience consisted of a collection of community members, alumni, faculty, staff, Carleton students and a few St. Olaf students. Loy explained that before his visit he reached out to President Poskanzer. “I sent him an email a couple weeks ago saying that I was planning to do this. I didn’t want to do this to surprise him. I don’t want to put the President on the spot, but I don’t want to make my view clear so in as polite a way as I can, I wanted to let him know what’s coming down.”

Poskanzer responded that he would be out of town for the visit and would be unable to meet. Associate Vice President and Chief of Staff Elise Eslinger states that Poskanzer noted that  “he was sorry Mr. Loy was choosing to return his degree, but indicated he understood Mr. Loy’s rationale.”

Eslinger also noted that “in accordance with Mr. Loy’s wishes, President Poskanzer affirmed that he would instruct the College archives to remove Mr. Loy from the list of honorary degree recipients.”

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