WILLIAMSTOWN — Williams College has begun divesting its endowment from companies with connections to fossil fuel producers, a process that will take 11 years, according to President Maud Mandel.
It’s a move that many students and faculty have been calling for since 2013.
In a letter sent recently to the Williams College community, Mandel noted that the college hasn’t had direct investment in “fossil fuel companies of any kind for many years. Indeed, Williams has no direct investments at all.”
But part of the endowment “is invested in funds that then invest in public and private companies,” she continued. “Through such ‘indirect investments,’ Williams currently has approximately 4 percent invested in real asset funds, some of which are in projects related to fossil fuels.”
The school has not made any new investments in such funds since 2019, Mandel said, noting that last fall the board of trustees’ Investment Committee pledged there would be no “new investments in funds engaged in oil and gas extraction.”
The remaining investments in such firms will phase out over time, “a process that we anticipate will be complete by 2033, once these partnerships are liquidated,” she said. The divestment strategy parallels similar policies in other comparable colleges and universities, she noted.
According to a spokesman for Williams College in 2015, the fund with 3 percent of the endowment was directly invested by the college and had no investments in fossil fuel production. The student governing organization at the time, the College Council, sent a resolution calling for divestment to the Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibilities, which makes investment suggestions to the board of trustees’ Finance Committee, which makes the final investment decisions.
Back then, The Eagle was told, the other 97 percent of the school’s $1.8 billion endowment was handled by account managers of corporate investment firms, which were logistically hampered from making individual investment strategies for individual funds at the time, according to the college spokesperson.
Mandel said that the college launched a strategy in 2015 dedicated to investing in renewable energy and the transition to carbon-free energy production. Since then, she said, Williams has committed $50 million “in this arena.”
For the past few years, Williams College has also dedicated significant funds in building new facilities with climate-friendly sources of energy and materials to drastically reduce the carbon footprints of its built environment.
Current students involved with Divest Williams said they were happy about Mandel’s announcement.
“We are celebrating this as a first step for divestment,” said Ruby Lawrence, an organizer of Divest Williams. A possible next step is to divest from other culturally unethical investments in firms that produce firearms or fund private prisons.
“We would also hope that the school steer funds to local investments in projects that can have a direct impact on the local community and the school community,” Lawrence said. “And we’d also like to see students have more involvement in the endowment discussion. The college has a really long way to go on sustainability.”
In a recent letter to the Williams College board of trustees, Divest Williams noted that students have been pushing for full divestment since 2013. In 2015, 70 percent of students voted in favor of divestment. Then, in November 2021, more than 200 faculty and staff members signed a letter calling for divestment.