The College plans to end all indirect investments related to the fossil fuel industry by 2033, President Maud S. Mandel announced in an email from across campus on Friday, causing the divestment organizers to celebrate and some other students to confuse. In October 2021, Mandel announced at a meeting of professors that the College has held no direct investments in fossil fuels since 2015 and would be eliminate the 4% of the endowment invested indirectly in the fossil fuel industry over the next few yearsalthough she did not make a public statement announcing the divestment at that time.
“Until now, I have been hesitant to write a letter announcing such changes to the portfolio, both because the process we and other schools have started will take years, and because I am skeptical about the “impact of these changes or any statement about them. direct impact on the climate crisis,” Mandel wrote in the email. “I hope this clarifies questions about colleges’ investment strategies in this domain.”
Mandel sent the email the day after she, Provost Dukes Love, and two College board members met with five representatives of the Williams College Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA), who called the College to make a public statement about their fossil fuel investments.
“Taking $160 million out of the fossil fuel industry is not going to cause the fossil fuel industry to collapse,” said Lauren Lynch ’23, a YDSA organizer who was present at the meeting with Mandel. in an interview with the Record. “But the point of this [statement] is to stigmatize the fossil fuel industry, bring Williams’ name in line with this movement, and set an example for other campuses to do the same.
In recent years, many peer institutions, including Cornell, Amherstand Harvard issued similar statements indicating that they would abandon all direct and indirect investments in the fossil fuel industry.
In response to Mandel’s email, YDSA held a celebration attended by about 50 students Friday outside the Paresky Center. “We have obtained confirmation from President Mandel that the College will finally commit to a policy of phasing out all fossil fuel investments,” Coco Rhum ’23 said in a speech at the event. “We want to emphasize how important this is, although the email sent today may have downplayed it a bit.”
However, Kedar Veeraswamy ’24, co-chair of the Williams Environmental Council (WEC), said while the email demonstrates the College’s receptivity to public opinion, it still fell short of its expectations. “[Mandel] didn’t change anything, and it’s frustrating for people who expected the public statement to be something it wasn’t,” he said. “I’m glad YDSA considers this a win, but I would say there’s still work to be done.”
Other students expressed confusion over the YDSA celebration. “I didn’t realize at first that [Mandel’s email] was what YDSA was so excited about,” said Sam Sidders ’25. “Me and a few friends were like, ‘Oh, is that all they wanted? Nothing has really changed here.
Liv Chambers ’25 communicated a similar sentiment. “To me, it looks like the school is continuing the exact same policy that was in place prior to the recent calls for divestment,” she wrote to the Record. “I think Maud’s email begs the question of how much that has really changed.”
Lynch predicted that the email may have disappointed the students in part because of Mandel’s choice to refrain from using the word “divestment” in his email, a decision which Mandel said was intentional. “Selling is selling assets and we have no direct fossil fuel investments to sell,” Mandel wrote in an email to Record. “What we had was a small number of partnerships that we are now allowing to expire… We just thought it wouldn’t be accurate to call it a ‘divestment’.”
Mandel’s decision to refrain from using the word “divestment” aligns with the language of statements made by many other peer institutions that have announced their intention to phase out fossil fuel-related investment.
Lynch said, however, that YDSA used the word “divestment” to refer to Mandel’s statement because it was a buzzword associated with their organizing movement. “We’re calling this divestment because that’s what we fought for,” Lynch said. Still, Lynch added that she understands Mandel’s reasoning behind her choice of words.
While Environmental Studies Center and Environmental Studies Program director Nicolas Howe said making a public statement was “the right thing to do,” he also expressed indifference to the terminology Mandel used. in his email. “I don’t care if we call this a divestment,” he wrote in an email to the Record. “What matters to me is the moral significance of publicly untangling ourselves from the fossil fuel industry, however designed.”
In 2015, students and alumni led a divestment campaign that led to a public statement by then-President Adam F. Falk. The efforts included a proposal signed by more than 500 members of the College community, calling for divestment from 200 companies identified as having the largest fossil fuel reserves.
In his statement, Falk noted that as of June 2015, the College had no direct ownership interests in any of the 200 companies referenced in the proposal, following a decision the College had already made on the recommendation of the investment committee of the board of directors. trustees several years earlier. Still, Falk acknowledged that the College had not completely divested, describing the divesture as “a largely symbolic strategy, with unlikely to have a substantial impact on the economic or social forces responsible for climate change, or on the policy decisions that are needed to address it.
The College’s response to the 2015 proposal was not to divest, as the proposal called for, but rather to invest $50 million in sustainability projects over the next five years. The projects included sustainable construction and building renovations on campus, academic programs, community programs and impact investing, Falk said in an interview in the magazine’s Spring 2017 issue. Williams College Magazine.
Mandel referenced the same investment statistic in his campus-wide email, writing that “Williams has committed $50 million to these funds and we continue to devote significant time and resources to exploring opportunities in this area. The College 2021 Strategic plan amply explained that the College plans to continue “investing the endowment in impact investments that drive measurable reductions in global carbon emissions.”
Daniel Shearer ’04, an alumnus who has been involved in the College’s graduate divestment efforts and who helped create the proposal, met with Falk and board members in 2015 to discuss the organizers’ demands. During the meeting, Falk made it clear that he didn’t believe in the divestment mission, Shearer said in an interview with the Record. “I see this theme in the current president’s message,” Shearer said. “[Mandel’s email] reads: “We’re doing this, but we still don’t think it really matters that much. »
Still, Shearer appreciated that Mandel released a statement detailing the College’s investment strategy regarding the endowment’s ties to fossil fuels. “There’s the fundamental element of ‘getting your money out where it shouldn’t be,’ but in some ways there’s even more value in how you tell the story.”