Cal Poly Foundation, Divest from Fossil Fuels

May 9th, 2022

Comments to Foundation Board of Directors and Finance Committee, May 7 2022

Seven reasons in three allotted minutes to divest Cal Poly Foundation from Fossil Fuel Investments

1.     To respond to the well-informed, respectful and impassioned student testimony at previous meetings urging you to act on this.  Clearly, today’s students and their children will be more impacted by the Climate Crisis than our generation.  Providing financial support to Fossil Fuel companies that continue to play a significant role in worsening that Crisis is neglecting the University’s commitment to the welfare of its present and future students.

2.     To Comply with the Foundation’s Policy Statement 401 adopted statement January 2007, updated November 2018: “the Cal Poly Foundation will endeavor to consider all relevant facts and circumstances in making investment decisions, including the risks and opportunities of environmental, social and corporate governance features.” https://content-calpoly-edu.s3.amazonaws.com/foundation/1/images/CPF%20Policy%20401%20Social%20Responsible%20Investing%20%28approved%2011.10.18%29.pdf):  

3.     To bring Foundation Investment policy in line with CSU’s 2021 policy, along with the University of California’s and Harvard’s.

4.     To Strengthen Cal Poly’s effort to attain STARS Platinum Status by adding 4 points of credit to Planning and Administration Sustainability evaluation at virtually no cost.  (https://reports.aashe.org/institutions/california-polytechnic-state-university-ca/report/2019-09-19/).

5.     To Acknowledg the effort of Cal Poly employees to get their pension fund, PERS, to divest from Fossil Fuels. This endeavor has recently moved forward with State Senate Bill SB1173 requiring such divestment. It passed out of the Judiciary Committee on April 19 and is now under consideration by the Appropriations committee.

6.     To consider that in the long-term, Fossil Fuel Investments lack fiduciary responsibility since “the vast majority of fossil fuel reserves must inevitably be left in the ground in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. This means that 90% of coal, 60% of gas, and 60% of oil proven reserves cannot be extracted, and therefore cannot provide returns for fossil fuel investors.” https://www.eenews.net/articles/abandoning-60-of-global-oil-might-limit-warming-to-1-5-c/ Internationally, a growing number of successful lawsuits, many of them brought by young people, are requiring governments and corporations to reduce carbon emissions and hence are reducing the monetary value of reserves and the entities which own them. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-02424-7

7.     To recognize that Russia’s aggression in Ukraine is largely financed by its Fossil Fuel Assets. Investments in those assets worldwide are being cancelled or frozen, heightening the urgency of breaking free from Fossil Fuel Dependence and profiteering.

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To the Cal Poly Foundation Board, February 4 2022

Thank you for this opportunity to once again testify at your February 12 meeting in support of “Divest the CSU of Fossil Fuels” representatives Heath Hooper and Nicholas Trautman’s request that you to adhere to the CSU Policy regarding investment in fossil fuels.

Their arguments in favor of this position were presented to your November 6 meeting and published here: https://www.sanluisobispo.com/opinion/readers-opinion/article255511031.html

As I mentioned in my last communication, I was hoping to hear a reasoned response to their request, and in particular to their specific refutation of arguments supporting the Foundation Board’s reluctance to make its investment policy compatible with that of the University it is dedicated to support.

My hope was disappointed by the report at that meeting, but the issue remains a live one.

 It was mentioned that the Board has not yet taken a definite position on whether they will divest and on how they will respond to the CSU decision.  Does that mean a position will be presented and voted upon at the upcoming meeting?  If not, is any reason provided for further delay?

 It was mentioned that the Foundation is required to invest only in mutual funds, not in individual stocks.  But many mutual funds exist that do not include fossil fuel stocks and investments could be shifted to such funds.

 The point was made that such funds might not be as lucrative or secure as those in the present portfolio, but no clear evidence was presented for this questionable claim.

 I’d like to point out that the City of San Luis Obispo, another institution closely related to Cal Poly with equally prudent investment guidelines, divested its holdings in fossil fuels back in 2015: “The City’s Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) Policy restricts from the portfolio issuers who generate revenue from casinos, gambling, racetracks, brewery, wine/spirits, tobacco, electronic cigarette, or tobacco-related products, or who support the direct production or drilling of fossil fuels.”  [https://www.slocity.org/home/showpublisheddocument/31473/637744833530000000]

A recent audit of the outcome of that shift indicates fiscal benefits and reduced risk from doing so.

 This local example is supported by numerous financial industry and academic studies, e.g. “We find that the investment performance of portfolios that exclude fossil fuel production companies does not significantly differ in terms of risk and return from unrestricted portfolios.” [https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14693062.2020.1806020]

 It was mentioned at your last meeting that such assessments are contradicted by other studies.  But no investment strategies have fully predictable outcomes or undisputed support.

 Given the ongoing climate crisis and the role of fossil fuel companies in contributing to it and in hiding that role, the appeal to questionable claims of financial responsibility is strongly outweighed by the consequences of continuing to support them.

 On the other hand, considering that the divestment campaign is being driven by Cal Poly students who have disproportionately more to lose from the climate crisis than those who are now in the position to take such action, one might question the nature of the dedication of such leaders to the students’ welfare and prosperity.

 Respectfully submitted,

 Steven Marx

Professor Emeritus of English, Cal Poly

Recipient:  CSU Systemwide Quality Improvement Award, Quest for the Best Faculty Mentor Award, College of Liberal Arts Scholar of the Year Award, Cal Poly Distinguished Professor Award, Founder, The Cal Poly Land Project

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In Memoriam: Bob Kenas

April 24th, 2022

December 1942-March 2022

Dear Bob

Deborah phoned me with word of your death a couple of weeks ago.  Since then, you’ve been more present to me than even during the intense emails we’ve exchanged since the reunion I attended at your home in 1996. I regretfully declined to join any more of them because of the difficulty I’ve always experienced relating to individuals within the framework of the group. With no one was that contradiction between social and individual relationships more pronounced than with you.

Back in Netherland Park your role as the classic alpha male made you seem larger than life and me to almost disappear as the tiny omega called “mousie.” And when the girl I’d been in love with since fourth grade started going with you the annihilation felt complete.

By the time we reconnected in 1996, I’d been able to build a sense of self that didn’t depend on size, looks and prowess in sports, and you expressed an interest in me I found intensely flattering. But after the first hour or so of that event, I remember the old pattern of male bonding with talk about sports, and I receded to conversations with the women about family and books. Nevertheless, largely at your initiative we started writing to one another, and you encouraged me to voice long suppressed painful memories which you responded to with understanding and compassion.

The gap of time between our new connection and our childhood acquaintance created a perspective from which to view the shape of our lives, particularly in light of what it meant to grow old and face the end.

In 2019 we traded thoughts about efforts to deal with that by creating legacies  of scanned and cataloged photographs. Your words captured my own sense of both the importance and the futility of the attempt:

I think you and I share the same views on all of what you’re focused on!

I’ve digitized enormous number of slides and prints… the kids growing up, their hs and college sports, travel pics from all over Europe and the Middle East, etc.

Digitized super 8 movie film to DVDs and made copies for the three kids. I’ve done what can be done. The originals remain fairly neatly boxed… patiently awaiting our demise and eventual pitching. I just can’t.

Also boxed for each of the kids piles of their own prints that weren’t digitized.  Here they sit.

When I go down to my basement and look around some of the old stuff sitting there that I feel ‘connected’ to, I struggle with why I just can’t seem to let go and pitch it… framed pics, yearbooks,  bday cards, drawings from …. etc.

Maybe one snowy day this winter….

The most sustained of our conversations came two years ago in response to the death of LCB, another girl from Riverdale Park we had both been involved with—I as her early adolescent suitor, you as her longtime admirer and friend.

Earlier,  you had tried to lure me to the 2006 event with the promise that she would be there, part of your endeavor to maintain connections among all the members of the old group. Though that didn’t work out, it led Leslie and me into an exchange of reflections about our pasts informed by her rediscovery of a stash of letters I’d written to her 40 years earlier.

Upon your sending word of her passing, I came across media accounts of scandal attached to her illustrious career and wrote to you to commiserate, but also, in true teenage fashion, to gossip. Next morning, as I opened my computer to write a guilty retraction, I saw your reply sent at 2:00 AM the night before, detailing the starts and stops of your lifelong friendship and explaining how both the press and many of her distinguished colleagues had maligned her for understandable but largely unwarranted reasons.

That exchange was followed by a long phone conversation—I still recall during it walking up and down the hill in my back yard.

And then just a year ago, our last communication, in response to another person reaching the end of the road, in which you observed:

Lots of deaths piling up… covid- related in some cases  to be sure… but my feeling is that a lot of folks in our ‘age group’ may be dying sooner than they would be if not for the collateral emotional damage and outlook that we’ve been faced with.   Maybe I’m way off base!?!?

What got you wasn’t covid or its collateral damage, though it was another cruel disease. But “dying sooner” at 80, I need to believe, doesn’t require an explanation or a cause. It’s living longer that’s out of the ordinary—both a blessing and a burden.

Our connection, Bob, has been a gift for me, providing a unique chance to contemplate the whole of our lives, beginning to end.  Thanks.

Tucson

April 19th, 2022

April 6

Sitting in $300/night room in the Westward Look Resort. Discounted for Jan’s semiannual reunion of her 1965 Stanford-in-Germany Group to $150.  I agreed to accompany her since it coincided with our 55th anniversary the day we arrived and because I remember Tucson as an appealing place from two earlier visits.

The last of these was a reunion I attended was six years ago at Asilomar near Monterey that’s always been associated with an apologetic phone call I received upon arrival from an official saying that the big grant that had been sustaining us at City Farm had been rescinded because the Foundation making it was no longer funding anything in San Luis County.

This time around my experience has been a mixed bag. The official tour the group took this morning recalled the nightmare of taking grandkids to a theme park: endless wait time, exorbitant admission charge, being stuck in a tram with earphone-delivered recorded narrative by a 1950’s style authoritative narrator. No chance to walk or explore the tourist packed canyon.

Yesterday’s solo excursion was also disappointing.  I’d been anticipating the prospect of  exploring the city on an electric bike, but the rental process—all via text message with three combinations to allow access to the suburban storage unit where they were kept, ambiguous instructions, no map, and no lock, left me spending hours on a desolate ring road and then doubling back to go downtown where I was unable to leave the bike out of my sight.

 

 

 

But the group dinner that night in a famous Mexican restaurant was enjoyable—eight people at our table drinking pitchers of margaritas and reminiscing (as always) about Stanford in the sixties. This time I was able to participate by talking about my grad school experience there–Peace Corps expulsion, draft, and meeting Jan soon after she’d returned from Stanford in Germany at a poetry seminar in Free University of Palo Alto.

 

 

 

 

The day before, I took a solo hike up a busy trail into Pima Canyon, close by this resort, which still offered some mountain solitude, grand rock formations, the primal experience of finding running water in the desert, and a high altitude view of the new Tuscon’s limitless sprawl.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the previous day, before the group arrived, Jan and I came across the kind of travel surprise one hopes for: a brilliant concert in a nearby botanical garden by two guitarists and a tenor.

 

 

That night we drove to South Tucson for some street food in a neighborhood recommended by the local hip weekly.  It was a little edgy being the only gringos and drinking cans of beer in paper bags.

April 7

I wrote the previous entry alone in our room while Jan attended a Zoom gathering of present and absent reunioneers. It was to be followed by dinner in the hotel dining room and then a planned discussion for the group on an undisclosed topic.  I told her that five hours of uninterrupted sitting was not going to work for me, and she said she understood and that I should feel free to go my own way.  After writing the recollections above, I went outside where the late afternoon light on the mountains along with the extra gas in the car I’d already paid at the airport rental spurred me on to a vehicular excursion.  I remembered a description in a tourist guide of the Mt. Lemmon highway  in the Catalina mountains and traced out a route to get there on my phone.

The challenge of navigating through the new suburbs raised my morale and I reached the base of the ascent less than an hour before sunset. Having texted Jan with a picture and my location I ascended the smoothly curving road which was surprisingly free of traffic, my attention nicely focused on the sensations of steering and the vistas unrolled by changes of altitude and direction.

Stopping briefly at turnouts to allow the occasional car to pass and take a picture, I looked forward to relating my adventure to the assembled group upon return.  The road ended at 8000 feet flanked by small snow banks.  The thrill of coasting down the 27 miles of perfectly banked curves in the settling dark was heightened by the precipitous dropoffs on either side.

As I pulled up to the hotel at the end of the three hour adventure, Jan phoned, extremely distressed with worry.  She hadnt received my text.  The group in the hotel restaurant had been waiting for food for 2 hours and were engaged in a moderated sharing of medical problems.  There was no occasion to describe my exploration.

The next morning after the others departed we drove downtown to the U of A campus and visited the Arizona State Museum.  The  exhibits of indigenous ceramics, basketry and weaving brought us together like the concert several days earlier.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After afternoon siesta we met Bill, the one remaining group member, and drove back downtown for a great Italian dinner serenaded by a duo of troubadours.

 

Nancy Lucas 1942-2021

March 27th, 2022

On Sunday attended a memorial service at the Sangha for Nancy Lucas, my age. Retired before me, about 2006.  Lost contact as part of my withdrawal from English department but heard that seven years ago she was moved by her two sons out of SLO to an Alzheimer facility where the older one lives in Healdsburg.  They organized the memorial at White Heron Sangha in Avila because she was an early member who left before I first got there.  The event was announced through the Sangha email list, but not, it seems, through the English Department. I had the impression a number of those folks, who were closer to her than I, had been personally invited, but many others were absent.

This is the third memorial for Sangha members I’ve been to: Barbara Scott, Melody Demerit, the two others.  Women I had special connections with—Barbara my therapist in 1992 and Melody my copy editor in 1998 and 2005.  Those connections were mixed with admiration: Barbara for bravery in dealing with the unimaginable pain of her rheumatoid arthritis, Melody for her steadfastness in serving on the Morro Bay City Council. And affection: Barbara for her ebullience, Melody for her bluff irreverence.

With Nancy it was different.  The most prominent thing about her was a spectacular beauty and grace.  Her head, with its great green eyes and bright red hair, seemed to float with a buoyancy that suspended the rest of her tall body. Her voice, with its slight hint of Texas drawl, seemed to sing recitative rather than talk.  And as so many of the speakers remarked, she fully shared that celebrity presence with everyone who basked in it.  An illustration in that place of a Buddhist aspiration to be fully there for other people.

And a poignant irony that someone so present lived out her life growing steadily more absent. So absent that the two adored and adoring sons who took her in care remembered, in lengthy detail, her rare moments of partially being there in laughter and song.

A picture of her at our house October 1991 during an English Faculty play reading of Sheridan’s The School for Scandal together with Mike Wenzl (1939-2017)