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.