A March 25 article written by Sam Becker for The Student Life (TSL), titled “The High Price of Not Putting a Price on Carbon,” recounted a meeting between the Citizens Climate Lobby Claremont Colleges (CCLCC) and Claremont McKenna College President Hiram Chodosh. The article condemned Chodosh for declining to “support a price on carbon on behalf of the college or as an individual” and “attack[ing] the strategy behind the initiative.” Becker states that Chodosh’s “lack of support for a price on carbon aligns him with the segment of society who are content to ignore one of the most important issues of our generation,” implying that his decision stems from unwillingness to consider the issue of climate change. However, Chodosh’s choice to not support the students’ proposal is not reprehensible. As the president of a college, Chodosh has no responsibility to take a stance on controversial national political issues—not even under immense student pressure.

According to TSL, Chodosh said he wouldn’t support the initiative because “it would be too political, too divisive, and some people may not be pleased with the school.” As Becker mentions in his article, colleges and college presidents historically avoid taking a stance on issues like climate legislation, and this is precisely the reason why. Not only is there still political debate on whether or not human-induced climate change exists, there is also debate among those who are concerned about whether a price on carbon is the correct solution to addressing this issue. If Chodosh had decided to publicly support the initiative, either on behalf of himself or on behalf of the school, CMC would be taking a partisan stance and conveying support for a particular political viewpoint.

This, of course, would receive pushback from students, alumni, faculty, and others associated with the college that may not share the same views on carbon pricing as CCLCC. Additionally, this would disappoint anyone that believes a non-profit educational institution that consistently encourages discussion and debate across party lines has no business taking political stances on topics not directly related to the school and its functioning. CMC’s mission is to educate its students and improve the quality of education and experience that they have on campus, not to cater to a progressive political agenda.

Becker cites the Wall Street Journal to support his idea that college presidents should actively support specific environmental initiatives. However, the article that he refers to does not argue that colleges should take stances on controversial issues; it simply reports that the higher education lobbyists have had significance in Washington. It makes no mention of any impact that colleges and universities have had on issues beyond those directly related to higher education, like student loans and rules for accrediting schools. There’s a reason why the Journal doesn’t state that colleges should be lobbying other types of legislation: colleges should not be supporting those types of political issues.

Chodosh’s advice to the students “to change [their] direction” was right—if their intention is to actually make change, student groups at the Claremont Colleges and other institutions should focus on garnering more support from students and outside organizations for their cause through events like an environmental summit. Trying to receive the support of college officials for specific political issues is not only a request out of their job description, but the precedent that it would set is antithetical to our community value at CMC of welcoming diverse political opinions.

Categories: Opinion
  • M

    Perhaps in true “Claremont Independent” style, Ms. Knight’s debut is mediocre and riddled with poor logic. Instead of identifying the necessity of a profitable portfolio in the management of the college endowment (in which environmentally unfriendly assets can unfortunately play a central part), she defers to possibility that there is a “debate on whether or not human-induced climate change exists.” There are no significant ongoing debates among scientists as to whether climate change exists or if it is created by humans. Why? Because these debates have concluded with an overwhelming consensus: that it’s happening and that it’s being cause by humans. To identify the issue of climate change as “partisan” is therefore misleading. The policy on dealing with the problem may be divided among party lines but the question of the existence of the problem is by its very nature not political, it is scientific. Chodosh’s decision should not be (and is not) one of declaring political allegiance. It should be a balanced assessment on the viability of changing the college’s investments against the damage it causes to our planet.

    • Actually, you’re wrong

      “There are no significant ongoing debates among scientists as to whether climate change exists or if it is created by humans.” Are you actually familiar with the scientific debate at all, or are you just going off of the famous “97% of scientists agree that humans are causing climate change” statistic? I’m assuming it’s the latter, and that “fact” is incredibly misleading. That number comes from a 2009 article by Maggie Zimmerman of the University of Illinois. The “97%” number is actually 97% of a 79-person subset of the 3,146 scientists who participated in the study. The 97% figure does not include solar scientists, meteorologists, physicists, astronomers, or cosmologists, many of whom have very different views on the true extent and causes of climate change. Ms. Knight is absolutely right to point out that this is still a hotly contested issue and, more importantly, she notes that even among those who do believe that climate change is significant and caused by humans, there is additional debate about whether or not a carbon tax is an effective policy measure to address the problem. The students in question brought their carbon tax plan–a specific policy–to President Chodosh. There is no reason why he should be expected to take such a stance.

      • Cyrus

        @Actually. You are correct. 99% of climate alarmists like “M” above have only the claims of the CC crowd to go on – they never look at the actual data. You can’t debate them because they are incapable of defending their position – except by the use of the gratuitous assertion that CC exists, as “M” did above. Yes, the climate is changing – it has since the dawn of time. No, the climate is not getting warmer – the graphs have been flat for 18 years.

        And even IF it could be proven that it is getting warmer, there is still no scientific correlation between man’s activities and climate. Sorry. The CC crowd’s main basis is the levels of atmospheric carbon. That is now about 400ppm up from 279 ppm in about 1860 and the climate has been up and down in that period. So they are riding the wrong horse (carbon) to start with.

        And lastly – the “horrors” of coastal flooding forcing millions to move. Keep in mind that their highest prediction if everything they claim comes true – which it won’t – is just over 2 inches. Hardly a crisis. Even snails could outrun it.

        And besides, warmer is better, as is more carbon in the air, because green things (crops) grow more abundantly, feeding more people. And current predictions are starting to point to a long term global cooling (due mainly to Sun cycles – which are the major drivers of climate anyway), so the CC scare is fading.

        Keep in mind that CC is nothing more than a tool for wealth redistribution from the industrial economies to 3rd world dictators (after the middle-men like Gore get their cut). If they truly believed this alchemy, they would cease flying about on their private jets, and holding conferences in Paris and Rio that burn tons of jet fuel to get them there. “Do as I say and not as I do” is not how one should lead the climate game. Capiche?

    • Steven Glick

      Fossil fuel divestment is a separate issue from the one addressed in this article. If you’d like to read more about that, check out this 2015 CI article by Michael Caldwell:


  • Alex

    You can hold the opinion of CMC’s CFO that our only investment paradigm ought to be ROI. But, personally, I wouldn’t be offended if Chodosh announced divestment from Nike because he didn’t want to condone businesses that support child labor– we can all agree that proliferating child labor is unethical. If a ethical question is black-and-white, I think Chodosh ought to chose to be on the right side of history. The mere fact that political discussion exists does not mean that one cannot draw an objective ethical conclusion on the topic (eg political discourse from the KKK in support of Jim Crow laws does not constitute a legitimate debate in which Chodosh should remain “unbiased”). Just because some alumni might be “offended” by divestment does not mean we should buckle to them. On the topic of climate change, you’re right that human-induced climate change is still politically debated; however, the scientific community has almost unanimously agreed on the issue– the only real debate is the magnitude of the change. If Chodosh feels that CMC should join the ranks of Pitzer and Stanford by divesting from dirty energy for objective ethical reasons, I wouldn’t stand in his way.

    • Actually, you’re wrong

      This article has nothing to do with divestment. As for your point that “the scientific community has almost unanimously agreed on the issue,” please see my response to M above.

  • S

    It would do well for you to do a little more research on what exactly was asked of Chodosh. It seems he was simply asked for a verbal support of a ‘price on carbon’, which represents nothing more than the idea that carbon pollution is a principle cause of global warming (which uncontestedly exists,
    you might be interested to know), and that requiring carbon producers to somehow pay would motivate less carbon production. The umbrella term of a Price on Carbon has been supported bipartisanally, and would therefore not be controversial for Chodosh to support. What would be controversial is the support of a specfic policy implementing a Price on Carbon, such as a tax, cap & trade, etc, which doesn’t seem to have been asked of Chodosh. Knight’s article lacks factual support, logic, and knowledge on the topic at hand. It’s incredible to find students at a place like CMC continue to ignore and deny the existance of climate change while it stares us in the face, and try to peg what should be a collective, human effort to help our planet as a controversial and political issue.

    • Actually, you’re wrong

      Just because something has bipartisan support doesn’t mean that everyone agrees on it. Israel has bipartisan support; would you expect President Chodosh to make a statement supporting Israel?

  • Fabulous

    How is this journalism? The article reads like you literally copy and pasted the article with 2 sentences of analysis.

    What an awful debut. Stop writing now while you can. Or – even better – take another FWS because I would be embarrassed if you wrote like this after sitting in my class.