What Happens after Divestment?

Rylee Neville, Staff Reporter

In the midst of Divest Whitman’s yearly campaign to remove fiscal investments in the fossil fuel industry, concerns have arisen recently about where the money to fully divest would come from; one potential source being financial aid packages.

Divest Whitman is a student-run organization that strives for a cleaner energy society by campaigning to take away money that is invested in companies that are not environmentally efficient. The process of fully divesting, or the removal all the investments in fossil fuel driven industries, is complicated and uncertain as of now. Divest Whitman members, as well as Whitman’s investment manager, spoke on the nuances of where the funding to divest comes from.

Justin Rodegerdts, the manager of investment for Whitman, describes divestment as a process.

“It essentially just removes particular managers from our overall portfolio, it could have a positive effect or a negative effect,” Rodegerdts said.

Removing these managers that invest in fossil fuel companies could cause Whitman to utilize managers that would make money, or that would lose money. It is complicated because no one knows how exactly fully divesting will impact Whitman until it actually happens.

This uncertainty about the impacts of fully divesting leave questions about whether or not financial aid packages would be decreased by making this financial move.  Rodegerdts explains that the answer is complicated, but there is the potential that financial aid packages could be impacted. 

“[Divesting] wouldn’t cause your financial aid to go away,” Rodegerdts said. “It could impact the amount of financial aid you get, but we don’t know if that impact would be for the positive or for the negative. How divestment would impact our endowment is through causing us to divest from certain portfolio managers that might have those particular assets.”

Genean Wrisley, an active member of Divest Whitman, describes further her understanding of how divesting is related to financial aid.

“Divesting is not taking away from financial aid, rather reinvesting this huge pot of money into something else,” Wrisley says.

Whitman has a 500 million dollar endowment, and this “huge pot of money” is used to invest in 30-40 different investment managers, who go out and use the money Whitman provides them to invest in what they want. If we fully divest, this would mean that we would be changing managers and reinvesting into other assets. This is separate from financial aid, according to Wrisley. This endowment is not where financial aid comes from.

Wrisley explains that there is a separate budget for financial aid that is not included in the endowment.

“If all of the financial aid budget was used up, and there was a really low year, they might have to draw money from the endowment, but divesting won’t make the endowment zero,” Wrisley says.

Another member of Divest Whitman, Tyee Williams, points out the uncertainty of how the endowment will end up.

“The fear from some people is if our endowment gets too weak or too low if we are not investing in good investments, then we might not have enough money to support certain things,” Williams says. (Financial aid is included in the “certain things.”)

Wrisley expresses that it is unlikely for divesting to impact financial aid in a big way.

“I don’t think anyone in Divest Whitman believes that that’s what would happen. If somehow that is what would happen, I think our strategies would change a lot, none of us want to cut financial aid,” Wrisley said.