Cal Poly Foundation, Divest from Fossil Fuels

Monday, 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.


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





Nancy Lucas 1942-2021

Sunday, 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)


Miss Leo High Sierra Love Song

Sunday, October 31st, 2021

Driving home from City Farm on Friday morning, I recognized the sound of a favorite voice on KCBX, and soon after heard Neal Losey announcing that Miss Leo was having a CD release party that night in Morro Bay.  She and her mandolinist, Andy O’Brian, had played at our last Fall Harvest Festival in precovid 2019, and at the time, the beauty of her voice kept distracting me from the bustle of activities that needed attention.

When I got home for my midday nap I lay on the couch, logged on to her website, purchased and downloaded the new collection of 13 songs, and dropped off to sleep soothed as if by lullabies.

Jan agreed to a date at the Libertine Pub, and after checking out the leftovers of the witches’ paddle in the nighttime fog, we arrived there in time to say hi to Leo, her husband and in-laws during the warm up acts.  Dressed up as a unicorn of sorts for Halloween, Leo recognized me and said she’d noticed that I had bought the album. At the start of her set, she told the audience of her surprise and delight to hear herself earlier on the radio.

The pub crowd was loud enough to have drowned out the earlier performers but when she and the three other band members started “Desert Queen,” the driving first cut on the album, either they quieted down or the music was strong enough to overcome the noise. The combination of original tunes and lyrics square on country music conventions along with honey sweet instrumental and vocal harmonies plunged me into another pre-sleep state of relaxation, but this time fully absorbed by the animated performance.

As she started singing “High Country Love Song,” I felt an echoing recollection: as I had half-consciously heard the song earlier in the day, there was a vague sense that I’d been to the place she so vividly described, in particular its references to pure flowing water and mule trains.

But as its idyllic pastoral unfurled in performance, I suddenly realized she was singing about experiences at a Yosemite Park High Sierra Camp, just like ones I treasured from the summer of 1961, when I worked for three months at Merced Lake as a “Camp Helper” between my sophomore and junior years in college. That was 60 years ago, but nothing had changed, the water, the absence of electricity, the mule trains, the ten mile run to the nearest camp or road, and the young romance.

When the song was done, I called out, “High Sierra Camp Helper,” and she stopped, stared at me and said, “how did you know that?” I don’t remember if and what I replied, I was so taken away.  By chance I’d recently come across pictures from that summer job which I’d scanned and put into my Mac photos library and might be able to access on my phone. I scrolled back through the years and there they were.






At that point the band took a break and Miss Leo came over to the table next to us, where her family was sitting. I told her of the memories the song brought back, and she said that was where she met her husband Mitch, just as it was narrated in the lyrics. I brought out the phone and showed them the pictures.  This got every body worked up and Jan captured the moment.



Mitch said he’d been the cook at Glen Aulin camp and she worked at Tuolumne Meadows. Every Thursday for his overnight day off he would hike the ten miles to see her. He noted that the camp configuration of 1961 was identical to that of 2013 when they met.  Then his mom said she worked at the Tuolumne store in 2017. He showed me a picture on his phone of a Camp Helper Party, and I almost correctly identified the peak in the background–it was not Vogelsang but Fletcher. I immediately recognized the mistake.




Lund Retreat/Transitions 2021

Thursday, October 21st, 2021

The “Atmospheric river” is still flowing.  The drum solo of rain on the roof hasn’t stopped since arrival here yesterday morning.


Before departure from the South Terminal, the agent announced that unless the pilot found a hole in the clouds to allow visibility the flight would go back without landing.  But the young captain with delicate wrists and blond hair flowing over her epaulets brought us in smoothly to the cinder block shack of an airport that hasn’t been improved at least since our arrival here in 1970.

IMG_1473I haven’t yet stopped loving this weather.  The compensation for drought in SLO, the heightened coziness of the wood fire, friendly cats and house’s silence, the 14 hour night and half-light of day inviting intermittent sleep, the absence of stimulation and obligation permit words to flow from thoughts and thoughts to flow from words.

This trip has been intended as a retreat to allow processing of recent events that are taking on the appearance of a life transition. “Retreat” has several associations with this place: its mythic remoteness at the end of the road and the time and expense it takes to get here, the initial retreat from war and society that brought us here from New York in 1970, the  summers of 1996 and 1997 holed up to start and finish my book, “Shakespeare and the Bible,”and the writing and meditation retreat on Cortez Island I attended in 2010.

Meditating hasn’t yet happened here, but this journaling may better serve my purposes.

Life transitions are times when the future seems undetermined, subject to the vagaries of chance and choice, when the present holds promise and danger, when the past reopens.  This one was brought on my long-anticipated retirement from the position of Executive Director of City Farm SLO.  The result of the successful accomplishments of our two young staff members, Kayla and Shane, whose salaries were financed by generous new supporters, it became clear that finally the organization could survive and thrive without me.

At the advice of a canny professional fund-raiser, a campaign was planned to mark the changeover in leadership with a public celebration targeting people of means and influence.  The admission price was $50 along with discreet requests for additional donations. Using a well-tried method for non-profits to generate support and money, the theme was to be a tribute to my past dedication. Kayla focused publicity on her photo of me tending our sheep that recalled the literary archetype of the old shepherd I’d explored 40 years ago in my doctoral dissertation. I sent personalized invitations to all the friends and relatives for whom Jan and I had addresses. (more…)