Join us in withholding your donations
until Williams commits to keep endowment money
from financing fossil fuel extraction. Sign below.
Members of the Williams College Board of Trustees,
We will withhold any further contributions to Williams College, and urge current and future alumni to do the same, until the College takes direct steps to divest its endowment funds from fossil fuel-based companies.
Investment in fossil fuels is not a morally neutral act. Accepted science has clearly demonstrated the existential threat to the planet from the continued extraction and burning of fossil fuels. Its fundamental impropriety is heightened by the fact that the largest producers of petroleum products have invested significant resources in deliberately suppressing climate science, misinforming the public, and purchasing political influence to protect their industry at the expense of safer and saner alternatives.
Moreover, President Trump and most of his cabinet not only deny the existence of global warming, but appear committed to policies that can only exacerbate its effects in the interest of the fossil fuel industry. For Williams not to take a firm, public stand against such dangerous sophistry is to turn its back on its historic moral responsibility.
Some contend that a decision to divest from fossil fuels presents a choice between Williams’ moral responsibility and its financial responsibility to maximize return on its investments. We believe that Williams' decisions should always be driven by moral responsibility, but we are also convinced, given continuing research on investment risks and returns, that in this case what is morally correct would be the more financially sound course to take over the long term.
We note that Yale University, whose endowment fund is managed by one of the most respected investors in the world, added climate change awareness to its investment strategy and has moved to eliminate its exposure to oil and coal industries. Longitudinal studies have shown the wisdom of this strategy, demonstrating that over time portfolios without fossil fuel investments have fared as well and sometimes better than those with such investments. We are concerned that the large number of Williams’ Trustees who themselves have significant investments in fossil fuels has stood in the way of the College’s serious consideration of a similar, forward-looking position that reflects Williams’ national leadership role.
We note that you have asked your fund managers to consider the impact of their investments on greenhouse gas emissions. We now ask that you follow up with more meaningful action. We request that you create a three-year plan that:
1- identifies the extent to which endowment funds are financing fossil fuel extraction, misinformation, pro-fossil fuel lobbying, and other initiatives that work against efforts to confront climate change;
2- directs the endowment’s fund managers to begin divesting from those investments as soon as possible and in no case later than three years; and
3- disassociates the College from fund managers who persist in financing endeavors that contribute to global warming.
We did not reach this decision lightly. As advocates of a strong Williams, we understand the role alumni donations play in supporting its continued role as one of the premier educational institutions in the country. We believe it is wrong, however, for the College to ask for contributions that it in turn invests in industries that threaten our very survival. We look forward to the time when we can once again offer our financial support to Williams.
February 25, 2015
Dear President Falk and the Board of Trustees:
We, the undersigned faculty and staff, have been heartened in the last months to witness an energetic student and alumni movement to divest our college holdings from the 200 largest publicly-traded companies in the fossil fuel industry. Through a series of thoughtful and enlightening debates and conversations since last year, we have come to believe wholeheartedly in the efficacy, necessity, and urgency of this demand. We would like to offer our support to the student and alumni-led campaigns, as well as our own reasons for supporting divestment.
The faculty and staff, like the president and the board of trustees, are stewards of an endowment that has been given in trust to our college explicitly as an investment in our shared future. In our mission statement, we rightly ask our students “to understand that an education at Williams should not be regarded as a privilege destined to create further privilege, but as a privilege that creates opportunities to serve society at large, and imposes the responsibility to do so.” We must model such responsibility for our students, just as we must take seriously our own commitment of “ensuring that our college operations are sustainable”—a sustainability that includes operations of our budget, and thus, our investments.
As a respected institution of higher learning, we are in a position to have a voice in one of the most important public debates of our time. The most immediate, and perhaps most important, virtue of being at the forefront of divestment is to help shape this debate, and to demonstrate for our students the power of rhetoric and activism in all of its forms, both institutional and individual. We believe that we should convey to our students that knowledge and responsibility happen at Williams, as well as in other leading institutions. If we want to continue to attract the brightest and most forward thinking students, faculty, and staff from across the country and around the world, then leadership is not a luxury, but a necessity.
In the matter of climate change, the effects of which are already catastrophic, we are obligated to eschew the traditional risk-averseness of venerable institutions and act instead as leaders in the public sphere. In light of existing data, it is difficult to credit the arguments that we have heard against divestment, particularly those that pessimistically imagine a more certain financial outcome of divestment than can be predicted for any of our investments. Moreover, if we use accounting systems that include the externalities of damages caused to the planet and its economic systems, investments in fossil fuel companies are poor choices.
We must do what we can to address climate change in substantive ways, not least because we know already how immensely costly it is. As sharers in the stewardship of the college, our endowment managers ought to exercise not just caution, but also agility, vision, and a keen sense of the future; it is indisputable that climate change itself, not just climate policy, will affect the economy. The US National Climate Assessment, the UN IPCC reports, and the Stern Review all detail significant economic changes generated by climate change, and a responsibly invested endowment will not only respond to, but also anticipate these changes. What’s more, shifting our investments from fossil fuels to renewable energy will enable new technologies that will be essential to our energy future.
Written into the very core beliefs of our college is the understanding that “no one can pretend to more than guess at what students now entering college will be called upon to comprehend in the decades ahead.” Yet we do know that climate change will be a defining challenge of their lives. Even as we are actively working to understand the magnitude and duration of change that we will experience, the actions we take today will impact not only the future of Williams and our immediate community, but of all species, including ours, and of our planet.
We find ourselves at a critical moment where we can make choices that will affect the quality and nature of what our lives will be like 50, 100, 1,000 years from now. The urgency of responding to climate change cannot be overstated. We join in partnership with our students, alumni, and other members of the Williams community in our commitment to changing the future we all now face. Because divestment has the proven capacity to shift public opinion and the terms of the current debate on climate change, we believe it is a crucial next step.
[180 faculty and 53 staff of Williams College]
The original divestment proposal was submitted on December 10th, 2014. It was researched and crafted by many members of the Williams community and we're proud to share it with you. Read it now.
Over the summer, several alumni thought about divestment and reinvestment and the steps to take to get there. We did research, thought through outreach, and put together this website and other tools for people to learn and follow along.
The public campaign is starting with a letter. The Communications Team put together an initial draft and several volunteers poured time into revisions, making sure that this letter presents a strong case for divestment and reinvestment. When the smoke cleared, after around 30 hours of volunteer time, a solid letter emerged. We hope you'll share it with Ephs you know. Here it is:Read more
Daniel Shearer signed Original Divestment Petition 2013-10-17 17:57:14 -0400Class of 2004. Very excited to see Williams take a leadership role and be the first of its peers to move for divestment.771 signatures
A look back to our work in 2014-2015, including our original petition that lead to the trustee's current plan to confront climate change...
This year, a majority of students and faculty, and hundreds of alumni asked the trustees to begin moving endowment investments away from fossil fuel companies. Their response commits to important investments in education, campus energy efficiency, and renewable energy technology, but completely closes the door to divestment. There was no willingness to innovate and provide leadership for our peer institutions on a major challenge: decoupling our financial interest in an industry that works against our mission.
The companies we currently invest in put our future at risk by extracting the carbon that will dramatically change our climate. To ensure their profit, they fund campaigns to cast doubt on established climate science. This is not an appropriate business for Williams to invest in. We're disappointed that the trustees have refused to even try to confront this problem.
So, we continue to ask for divestment. Because this is a challenge we can overcome.
Please consider and sign our petition below to demonstrate your preference that the investment strategy for our endowment should reflect the best climate science and the College’s core values of civic leadership, integrity, and service to society at large. You may read the full proposal submitted on 12/10/14, and our response to the trustees' decision.
Also, consider the petition to give more to Williams if divestment and better emissions standards are reached.
This initiative is put together by Williams alumni, students, faculty, & staff. Join us!
Williams alum returns honorary degree in protest of College's climate plan. WAMC, 10/23/15
Williams divestment movement disappointed at College's climate change strategy. Berkshire Eagle, 9/26/15
Divestment and Leadership. Professors Merrill and Swamy in the Williams Record, 9/23/15
No rest until we divest. Alex Griffin '18 in the Williams Record, 9/16/15
Divestment group says Williams College climate change plans fall short. WAMC, 9/14/15
Petition to the Williams College Board of Trustees:
We ask the Williams College Trustees to:
- screen out all future investments in the top 200 fossil-fuel companies;
- within five years, divest the endowment of all direct and indirect investments in these same companies;
- reinvest in opportunities that will reduce the college's reliance on fossil fuels and companies that will enact solutions for climate change mitigation and adaptation.
We believe that reinvestment over five years can be accomplished without adding risk to the endowment's financial return and we are excited for Williams to lead our peer institutions forward, ensuring that our investment operations are inline with our sustainability policies.
Want to join our organizing team? Awesome. Please visit the Volunteer page and get involved.
Curious? Have questions or ideas? Want to share an experience? Please fill out the contact form at the bottom of the page and let us know what's on your mind.
We are committed to creating a dynamic and collaborative campaign that gathers together the voices of alumni from across generations to support our college in being an environmental and financial leader.
We believe that re-investment is possible, that it is responsible, and that it makes sense.
We'd love to have you join us.Send
I see climate change as the largest social and environmental justice issue we face. Both mitigating and adapting to it is going to require changes in my own life and changes in way the businesses and organizations I'm involved in operate. Of my communities, Williams is the largest player...so here I am. And, it's awesome to be working with other Ephs again. Go Williams!