WEI and Divest Williams respond to statement on divestment

December 9, 2015 by Michael Green, News Editor

On Nov. 22, the Williams Endowment Initiative and Divest Williams responded to the Board of Trustees and President Adam Falk’s statement on divestment.

The statement from the Board outlined a number of steps the College will take to fight climate change, but stopped short of divestment from the companies with the largest fossil fuel reserves (see “College commits $50 million to reducing emissions,” Sept. 16, 2015).

The response stated that the two organizations “are dismayed” that the College will not divest its endowment from fossil fuel companies. The response criticized the alternatives to divestment that the Trustees proposed, calling it the “less ambitious path.”

The response also criticized the reasoning behind the rejection of divestment. The Trustees pointed to the high costs that would result from divesting within one year. However, according to the response, the divestment proposal asked for divestment over five years, which other institutions, like the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Wallace Global Fund, found to be “feasible and rewarding.”

The letter made three requests to the Board of Trustees. These requests asked the Trustees to “fully examine the path of divestment by engaging in ongoing conversations with existing fund managers and with other institutional investors who have committed to divestment, make publicly available all of the documents and analysis they considered when deliberating about divestment … and engage divestment advocates in ongoing conversations about how to move toward real climate leadership.”

“Dialogue between Divest Williams and the Trustees has been insufficient,” Sohum Patnaik ’18, a member of Divest Williams, said.

Some members of Divest Williams attended a Board of Trustees meeting in the spring. Since this initial meeting, Divest Williams has provided the Trustees with updates about divestment, but there has been a lack of reciprocal communication, according to Patnaik.

While the response asked for more transparency and more communication, Patnaik is unsure of how and when the Board of Trustees will ultimately act.

“I don’t know what to expect,” Patnaik said. “I know divestment won’t happen overnight.”

Divest Williams also wishes to continue to raise awareness about divestment in the College community and to promote education about the issue. In order to promote education, last month, Divest Williams held a teach-in. In order to raise awareness, last year, the group had a poster campaign, which according to Patnaik, is something it would like to do again.

“Divestment is not seen as a hot-button issue,” Patnaik said.

By raising awareness of divestment on campus, Patnaik believes more pressure will be placed on the Board of Trustees to act, because “they are supposed to be making decisions in the interests of students,” he said.

Falk responded to the letter from Divest Williams and the Williams Endowment Initiative.

“I respect the passion and continued activism of our students, faculty and staff around the issue of climate change, and I’m encouraged by the conversation that activism has fostered,” Falk said to the Record via email. “We may have different opinions about what approach will be most effective, but we agree that this is an urgent issue, and that Williams has an important role to play. I feel strongly that the plan the Board of Trustees and I put forth in September is the most effective action we as a community can take – practically and symbolically – to address climate change.”

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