Divestment Policy Working Group Solicits Feedback on Framework

Sara Platnick

The Divestment Policy Working Group is currently receiving feedback from the Whitman community about a framework that can help assess whether claims for divestment are reasonable and how they can be presented to the trustees. The framework will be revised if the group finds it necessary and they hope to present the final framework to the trustees later this month for review.

The working group was formed last January by President Murray to create a framework for the college to use that would allow the trustees to determine how to review a request for divestment, while also acknowledging that the Finance committee has a fiscal responsibility to invest money for the school.

“A group of students came forward in the fall and met with President Murray and myself to encourage the college to develop a divestment policy. The students did some research to show us the potential of how a framework policy could help. And then I think that if you combine that with the increasing requests to college communities to consider issues of divestment, it seemed like good timing to put together a framework to both help the community understand the issues that the trustees would consider and make it easier for the trustees to evaluate such proposals [for divestment],” said Treasurer and CFO Peter Harvey, a member of the Working Group.

The group includes members from various parts of the Whitman community, and is made up of Trustee Nancy Serrurier, Overseer Rob Hinnen, Harvey, Professor of Economics Denise Hazlett and ASWC Vice President, junior Arthur Shemitz.  

The current draft for the framework lays out the purpose and reasoning for investments, a description of an objectionable investment, a framework for actions that the trustees can take in the event that an investment is considered objectionable, and the process to make a request to the trustees to divest.

Many colleges already have a similar policy in place, and so the committee drew from those frameworks while taking into account the specific needs of the school. The end result is a three page document that was sent out a few weeks ago by Shemitz to be reviewed by the Whitman community for feedback.

“At first we asked, ‘How much input should we ask for immediately?’ But you can’t really go out and ask for feedback until you have a plan of your own. So our chair, the vice-chair of the trustees Nancy Serrurier, has been great. She did go and talk to one of the members of Divest Whitman, and spoke with a couple people from the faculty and the trustees before we began working on the framework. This framework is not the final draft, but we are hoping people can give feedback so we know if it’s clear and makes sense that these are the standards that we are proposing for the board to use and the process that you go through [to make a proposal],” said Hazlett.

In addition to releasing the draft of the framework in place to the community, the working group has also released other examples of framework policies in place, including the policies for Carleton College and a study on responsible investments from the Commonfund Institute.  

“I think with recent concerns about transparency, that’s been the main guiding principle in this, to make the committee’s work as transparent as possible while still respecting the fact that some things must remain confidential. Because this is intended to be a framework that will help a community, that will clarify the expectations for submitting a divestment request and clarify what the process will look like, it seemed important to allow public comment on that and to let the community see and comment on it before it goes to the Board of Trustees for recommendation of adoption,” said Shemitz.

The working group is accepting feedback on the proposed framework, which can be found online with accompanying reports regarding other schools’ policies, until April 8. All feedback can be sent to [email protected].

Editor’s note: This article originally included a quote from CFO & Treasurer Peter Harvey that was not updated to reflect corrections from the quote check.