Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan has a smart post criticizing the move by Swarthmore students to compel the college to divest itself of investments in fossil fuels. Swarthmore’s administration tells the students that it will increase their annual bill from $56,000 to $69,000. Excerpt:

Even if Swarthmore’s claim of a $13K annual tuition increase as a result of divesting from fossil fuels is high, it’s common sense that any investing strategy that makes choices based on politics rather than financial considerations will come with a cost. And that that cost will ultimately be passed on to students, and their parents, and to society at large, when some portion of them default on their insane student loan balance. There is some amount of cognitive dissonance involved in holding the positions “My college is too expensive” and “My college should purposely pursue a lower return on its investments” simultaneously.

One of that thread’s commenters makes a good point:

[T]he main problem here is that the students protesting and demanding that the college divest from anything having to do with fossil fuels will not be the ones to shoulder these costs. The costs will be paid by future applicants and future classes, none of whom have a voice in the current debate. Why should, say, Brown eliminate all fossil fuel related investments from its portfolio to satisfy members of the class of 2014 when it would be applicants in 2018 who would see costs rise by $10,000 or whatever?

In my neighborhood K-8 school, to give an example of the same kind of thinking, there is a group of parents who want to scrap the traditional enrollment scheme that prioritizes neighborhood kids (who are almost all white, as are their kids) in order to diversify the student body. Great idea! Except…their kids are in 8th grade, and will be leaving the school next year, so there is no chance that their kids will lost their spot under this new scheme. It’s generally speaking a bad idea to let your policy be guided by people who will not be at all affected by the consequences of that policy.