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  • Eric Santomauro-Stenzel

Wippman presented demands by Hamiltonians for Divestment for endowment disclosure, divestment, democracy

Wippman to present students’ concerns to Board in June, says he will confirm whether he has

BUTTRICK HALL, Office of the President – A group of about a dozen students with Hamiltonians for Divestment (H4D), Students for Justice in Palestine, the Black & Latine Student Union, Climate Justice Coalition, and Feminists of Color Collective met with President David Wippman during his open office hours Wednesday, May 1st around 2:30pm for about 15 minutes to present a letter addressed to the Board of Trustees demanding endowment transparency, democratic student oversight over its ethics, and a divestment plan from unethical institutions. According to a recording of the meeting obtained by Monitor, Wippman committed to passing along the demands to the Board at their next quarterly meeting in June, his last before retiring.

Students’ letter said they want “a public plan to disclose and divest by the beginning of the fall semester.” The only specific investments named in the letter are fossil fuels. An organizer in attendance with H4D and Students for Justice in Palestine told Monitor, “I think it performed its function, put the College on notice, and I do think the trustees will hear about this.”

This fall will be the first semester of President-elect Steven Tepper’s tenure, though the Board of Trustees, particularly its Investment Committee, exercises authority over the endowment. Hamilton’s Chief Investment Officer, Lauren Jacobson, manages the endowment. Before being appointed at Hamilton, she was a Managing Director for Columbia University’s endowment. Hamilton’s Board Chair is Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon and one of its Vice Chairs, Bob Delaney, sits on the boards of multiple fossil fuel companies.

H4D’s letter says the Investment Committee “is ultimately unaccountable to the student body and to the faculty.” They “condemn Hamilton College and the Investment Committee for systematically suppressing information about the endowment” following their investigation of publicly available information.

Hamilton has not responded to requests for comment from Monitor this semester about whether it is invested in military contractors or companies with ties to the State of Israel.

Meeting in the Trustee Room

Four attendees told Monitor that when they entered Buttrick Hall’s Trustee Room, which contains a long table with a chair at each head, they sat at the side closest to the door with a student at the head and an open seat next to them intended for Wippman. Upon entering, he walked about 15 feet to the other head of the table so he could “see everyone.”

Students read the letter aloud. Wippman replied, “Thank you for sharing this with me, I have the impression you were discussing this with the Student Government Association, is that not happening?”

Students said it was “in process” and “we’re doing both.”

Contacted by Monitor, SGA President Quentin Messer ‘26 did not have comment at this time. The last SGA meeting of the year is this Monday at 8:30pm in the Sadove Conference Room.

Wippman asked about students’ goals, both in meeting with him and a potential SGA resolution.

A student said the goal was to get Wippman to forward the demands to the trustees and have disclosure of the College’s $1.4 billion endowment so it can “divest from unethical institutions like police and prisons, and apartheid, and fossil fuels, and things of that nature.”

Another student said that because they pay tuition and are part of the College, they have a right to know what the school is investing in. “If there is truly nothing bad to hide, then I believe there shouldn’t be any issue in disclosing it.”

Wippman asked, “And your sense is that you represent the views of the student body as a whole?”

Students said yes, that they hoped review of the endowment would be in collaboration with more people, and that even if they aren’t an officially elected body, they are confident that their views are aligned with their peers.

“Look, I understand the concern that you have,” Wippman said. “I understand concerns around climate change, I understand concerns around Gaza, prisons, I understand it’s not one that’s been the subject of much attention. I’m not sure what it would encompass by ‘apartheid’.” He asked about peer institutions as a model to follow.

A student offered Amherst College’s March 2021 phasing out of fossil fuel investments. They also cited Brown University’s recent commitment to a Board vote on divestment from Israel.

Wippman explained that Hamilton only holds investments in funds, rather than direct investments. “It’s a complicated thing,” he said. “I won’t say yes or no because it’s not my decision” but rather the Board’s. He also repeated public knowledge about Hamilton’s not investing in more fossil fuels in years.

A student asked about Hamilton’s direct partnerships with vendors, naming Siemens as a corporation on a boycott list that partners with Hamilton. Wippman said contractor hirings vary significantly.

Asked about how students should expect a response from the Board, Wippman said the Board will determine that when they meet. “I don’t make those decisions.” Asked how students can confirm it was discussed, he said “You can ask me.”

Where from here?

Shortly after 6pm following the monthly faculty meeting in the Events Barn, approached by Monitor for comment on the H4D meeting, Wippman said “I think I’m done for tonight, thanks.” Asked about his perspective on the nationwide administrative and police crackdown on student protests using increasingly militarized methods against peaceful protestors, he said “I probably would’ve addressed that, but we ran out of time,” referring to the faculty meeting’s late end.

The last time Wippman substantively responded to a Monitor comment request was September 2022. He frequently meets with editors at the Spectator, who this academic year have not quoted him from an interview and largely have not covered organized campus social movements. In the fall, a Spectator Editor-in-Chief resisted efforts on the Media Board (in which Monitor participated) to open these weekly meetings to all student publications.

Wippman declined a demand to call for a ceasefire in Gaza in another April 19th meeting with many of the same student leaders. Wippman has previously said he would “hate to see” arrests happen at Hamilton and has tried to avoid restrictions on student speech on campus, but has not ruled it out entirely.

Students for Justice in Palestine is hosting a “Popular University” event Thursday, May 2nd from 3pm to 6pm on the West Quad near the Science Center. “Join us for education, creation, public comment, poetry, prayer in solidarity with Palestine and students protesting across the country,” they said in an advertisement.

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