Open Letter to Faculty on Divestment

Cole Warren ‘24 and Phoebe Neilsen ‘25 implore faculty to vote for divestment at the upcoming faculty meeting.

The world has watched for months as incessant attacks have targeted Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. In the seven months since the Israel-Gaza war started, over 34,000 Palestinians have been killed, with an unprecedented number of women and children casualties. The violence has been so pervasive that the International Court of Justice ruled earlier this year that it is “plausible” that Israel has committed acts of genocide. However, despite this sweeping devastation, the violence occurring before our eyes did not emerge from a vacuum. Instead, this campaign is simply an extreme acceleration of the illegal actions that the Israeli military has exerted upon Palestinians for decades. The need for an immediate ceasefire is pressing in Gaza. However, a ceasefire by itself will not end the structure of violence; it will just pause it for a moment. To actually achieve a lasting peace between Israel and Palestine, the continued support provided to entities facilitating this violence needs to end. Amherst College strives to represent the ideals of a liberal arts education, especially the qualities of humanist and democratic values at the heart of this institution. If the college wants to live up to these values, it must publicly call for divestment. This Friday, Amherst College faculty will have the opportunity to formally call for divestment. We strongly urge all eligible faculty members to vote in favor of this resolution, not only because of its moral importance but also to stand in solidarity with the broader college community and to defend the values of a liberal arts education.

We have already seen our community speak out against this conflict. This year, the town council of Amherst not only called for an immediate ceasefire but also an “end to unconditional U.S. military aid to the Israeli government.” Likewise, just last week, the college’s student body had already taken a stand with the Association of Amherst Students (AAS) passing a resolution calling for the college to divest from entities supporting the ongoing violence against the Occupied Palestinian Territories. By sharing the broad consensus of the student body in light of its respective powers as an organ of student government, the AAS has upheld the very democratic values at the heart of this institution. Similarly, dozens of alums and faculty, have already issued calls for divestment in public letters addressed to the school. In stark contrast to the statement published by President Michael Elliott and Chair of the Board of Trustees Andrew Nussbaum that “there is no shared consensus” on divestment in the college community, it is clear that the Amherst College community has used the means at its disposal to advocate for the college’s divestment from Israel. A diverse and representative coalition of the college community has made their opinion on this matter heard. However, it has become painfully apparent that Amherst College, as an institution, has failed to take the concerns of its community members seriously. This stands in the face of previous divestment efforts, such as those against Apartheid South Africa and the Sudanese government during the Darfur genocide. The college stated that divestment was necessary when a human atrocity was “wholly inconsistent with the moral and ethical values of Amherst College.” It is undeniable that the onslaught in Gaza meets this criterion, just as it is undeniable that the heart of this community has called on the college to live up to these stated values. If the administration and the Board of Trustees continue to ignore their stakeholders and actively reject the very precedents on divestment they have established, it is the responsibility of the students, faculty, and staff to use their collective agency to take a stand. That is why it is imperative for the Amherst College faculty to vote for divestment at the special meeting this Friday to advocate against this tragedy and uphold the democratic values of the college itself.

Some will argue that divestment is not Amherst College’s responsibility. President Elliott and Chair Nussbaum have said divestment is impractical because of its limited “measurable impact” on the conflict. They have likewise stated that the endowment is inadequate for debates and deliberations on policy. This line of thinking is misguided, however. Not only is this argument inconsistent with the college’s stated program of divestment, but it is also inconsistent with the measures it has adopted over the last few years. There were no calls to reject divestment from fossil fuels and the transition to carbon neutrality due to its little measurable impact on combating global climate change. Nor did the college say that our reliance on asset managers would mitigate any hope of achieving this program. Instead, the Board of Trustees actively decided to “instruct” and “engage” with our asset managers to ensure they did not allocate Amherst’s funds to the organizations we criticized. When faced with moral and ethical quandaries, Amherst College has been willing to take a stand for its values, taking the initiative to do the right thing even when it is difficult. That is one of the most essential reasons Amherst College is internationally respected. If the college wants to continue being an academic lodestar and a model of successful liberal arts education, it cannot be hypocritical in its selection of social initiatives. Nor can the college discount the institutional and economic power it wields.

All of us are well aware of the privilege we have to participate in the Amherst College community. Part of that privilege is the college’s over three billion dollar endowment. As much as we may like to express our institutional neutrality and apoliticism, we cannot forget how the billions of dollars we have at our disposal are inherently intertwined with politics. Amherst College is aware of that responsibility, emphasized by our continued efforts to keep our investments in line with environmental, social, and governance (ESG) principles. By continuing to make no effort to investigate and coordinate our investments regarding the ongoing conflict in Israel and Palestine, we are, in fact, using our endowment as a tool of foreign policy, albeit to continue enabling the status quo. When the status quo is the continued deaths of thousands of people, we cannot mistake inaction for neutrality; in this case, inaction is complicity.

We have already been impressed by the actions undertaken by the Amherst College faculty in pursuit of divestment. Earlier this month, the faculty of Amherst College wrote a letter to the editor calling for a motion for divestment to be presented and voted upon. Notably, however, out of the 24 co-signatories, only three are STEM professors. We especially urge faculty members in the sciences to engage themselves with the movement and, most importantly, vote for divestment on Friday. It is critical that the faculty is united in this decision, across all departments, regardless of whether or not their work is directly connected to the war. And of course, science does not exist in a vacuum; the Israeli war machine depends on the complicity of scientists and engineers to design and manufacture the very missiles that bombard the people of Gaza. As members of the Amherst College community, we are all responsible for ensuring that our institution divests from Israel’s onslaught, especially those of us for whom it is easiest to turn away.

We want to end this call to action with a tragic reminder of what is happening right now in Gaza. Since the beginning of this onslaught, every school in Gaza has been shut down, and every university has been damaged or destroyed. The motto of Amherst College is “Terras Irradient” — “Let them give light to the world.” The college adopted this world-bettering mission to create a community that would “advance knowledge, engage the world around them, and lead principled lives of consequence.” We are watching as these very educational values that brought us to Amherst are being targeted in this conflict. We are watching our international peers die in front of us. With the recent AAS resolution, the student body has declared that it wants Amherst College to stand by the values that guided us for centuries. Now, it is time for the faculty to do the same. As educators, mentors, and community leaders, we urge the faculty to vote in favor of the divestment resolution this Friday. In doing so, you will be standing by your students, fighting for a more democratic Amherst College, and contributing to a better world. Divestment is imperative at this time, and we graciously implore you, regardless of department or discipline, to vote in favor of this resolution.