Mount Holyoke trustees vote against divestment; Friday protest planned

  • Route 116 in South Hadley (Mount Holyoke College right)JOSH KUCKENS Josh Kuckens

Friday, April 14, 2017

SOUTH HADLEY — The trustees of Mount Holyoke College announced a unanimous vote against divesting from fossil fuels on Thursday, a day before a rally planned by the Mount Holyoke College Climate Justice Coalition intended to encourage college leaders to pull its money out of such investments.

Coalition organizers said the action would go on despite the announcement. The rally and “die-in” begins Friday at 1 p.m. behind Mary Lyon Hall on the college’s campus.

“The coalition has sought to engage for four years with the Board of Trustees and is deeply disturbed by its decision against divestment,” organizers wrote in a press release. “The Mount Holyoke community supports divestment: 88 percent of student voters voted for divestment in a 2014 referendum; 92 percent of faculty voted for divestment in a 2016 vote; and 95 percent of student senators voted for divestment this year.”

The board of trustees said in a statement that while they value the coalition’s input and acknowledge “climate change is real and is a defining issue of our era,” their ultimate responsibility is to “preserve and protect our endowment.”

“Given the College’s limited financial exposure to fossil fuels, divestment would sacrifice the strength and stability of our endowment without, we believe, having the desired impact on the fossil fuel industry. The move also would likely reduce the investment returns on the endowment and therefore distributions to the College,” they said. “Putting our endowment at risk means putting our mission at risk.”

Because the endowment is comingled, meaning the college has no direct holdings, they said they’d have to sell some $337 million, or half of the endowment.

Trustees said Mount Holyoke has no direct investments in any publicly traded fossil fuel companies, though it does have about $7 million invested in such companies as part of its comingled strategy. That amounts to 1 percent of the college’s total endowment, trustees said.

Still, organizers of the Friday rally assert divestment — however complicated — is the right thing to do.

“The Mount Holyoke Climate Justice Coalition will continue to work for fossil fuel divestment,” they said. “The gravity of the situation requires that the college cease supporting fossil fuels. All our futures are at stake.”

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@gazettenet.com.