Editorial: College should publicly commit to divestment

Editorial Board

The College has recently come under fire from students, faculty, and alums for refusing to make a definitive, public statement committing to divesting its endowment from fossil fuels. 

In response, President Maud S. Mandel and Provost Dukes Love have assured critics that over the next few years, the College plans to eliminate the 4 percent of its investments that are in funds with holdings in fossil fuels. Moreover, administrators have emphasized that the College has not held any direct investments in fossil fuels since 2015. 

The question is no longer whether the College should divest; it is clear that administrators intend to bring the endowment in that direction, and we commend them for that decision. The question is whether the College should go one step further and issue a public commitment to completely divesting from fossil fuels. 

We believe that it should. Divestment is not just about pulling money out of fossil fuel companies; it is also about sending a message that monetary gain acquired through fossil fuel extraction is unethical. Until the College signals this to the broader public, it will not have truly divested. 

As a national leader in higher education, the College has an influential voice on political issues. Mandel has not hesitated to use that voice recently, writing to the community multiple times over the last year to rightfully condemn racism and police violence. With divestment, the College now has another decisive opportunity to take a principled, public stance on an issue of deep importance far beyond the Purple Bubble.

The College’s refusal to publicly commit to divestment has made it a conspicuous exception among its peers. Given that a host of schools, from Amherst to Harvard, have issued statements, Williams now stands out from the pack, although not in the sense we are used to. There is no way to be neutral on the fossil fuel industry’s role in the climate crisis. The time has come for the College to clearly communicate that it is unethical to invest in fossil fuels.

Love has argued that the College’s divestment would have a minor impact on the environment, and that as a result, the conversation around divestment unproductively distracts from more effective sustainability initiatives the College has undertaken. While we agree that a commitment to divestment would be almost entirely symbolic, we also believe that symbolism matters. We believe that such a statement would lend more credibility to the College’s larger push for sustainability, not less. There is no reason the College cannot enact those initiatives while also taking a strong stance on divestment. 

It’s not enough to withdraw investments from the fossil fuels industry; the College should join the many voices speaking out against the industry. Divestment is about ethics, and the College must make its ethical position clear.

This editorial represents the opinion of the majority of the Record editorial board. Executive editors Tali Natter ’23 and Kitt Urdang ’23.5, who are involved in campus divestment organizing, did not participate in any part of the writing of this editorial.