June 24, 2024

Dear Students, Faculty, Staff, and Alumni,

We write today on behalf of the Board of Trustees to communicate our decision concerning formal divestment resolutions put forward by the faculty and the Association of Amherst Students (AAS)—and related requests from a coalition of students who met with several members of the Board of Trustees in May and a group of alumni who published a letter in the Amherst Student.

While these faculty, students, and alumni requested actions that vary in nature and scope, they shared a common call for divestment from companies supplying military equipment used by the State of Israel in the current campaign in Gaza. The Board therefore decided to consider this specific action, which has the broadest support across those interested groups.

We recognize that the request for divestment reflects a deep concern for the human suffering, death, and destruction being endured by Palestinians in Gaza, and that those who support divestment perceive it as a clear moral statement about the actions of a foreign state, Israel. The trustees also appreciate that the faculty and student resolutions were considered through respectful, deliberative processes. At the same time, there are dissenting opinions, also strongly held, among a large number of students, faculty, staff, and alumni.

The Board has considered the question of principles—whether it is appropriate to make the institutional statement that those supporting the resolution request; it has also considered the question of practicalities—whether investments in the endowment would be an effective means of making such a statement.

Principles Guiding Consideration

In our discussions, two principles have guided the trustees: first, as a fiduciary, the Board has a legal responsibility to act in the best interests of the College for both the short and long term; and second, as an agent of an institution comprised of many individuals with a wide range of backgrounds and opinions, it must consider and respect the perspectives of all members of our community. Accordingly, actions taken by the Board should either directly relate to the preservation and advancement of the College’s educational mission or, in rare cases lacking that connection to our purpose, should reflect a broad and deep agreement among Amherst’s students, faculty, staff, and alumni, and should not otherwise harm the College’s interests.

The Board has taken action on issues where disagreement exists—including, in recent years, legacy admissions, support for undocumented students, and advocacy for increased federal and state financial aid—on questions directly related to the fulfillment of our mission as an educational institution. Very rarely, the Board has also taken action responding to global events unrelated to the College’s day-to-day operation—apartheid in South Africa and genocide in Sudan—but only when there was clear agreement in our community, supported by a consensus of the federal government and international organizations.

Diversity of Opinion in Our Community

With regard to divestment related to Israel’s campaign in Gaza, perspectives in the Amherst community are both deeply held and extremely polarized, as was demonstrated by opinions shared in the faculty meeting on divestment; in meetings held this spring by the administration and trustees with students, faculty, and alumni; during and after the protest at Reunion; in countless formal and informal discussions and venues throughout the year; in the Amherst Student; and in petitions, open letters, and emails to the Board and the administration.

We have heard from many who believe strongly that, as a moral imperative, the civilian loss of life and devastation in Gaza, as well as the growing number of international voices condemning the manner in which Israel is conducting its military operation, demand that the College engage in a divestment action. We have heard from others who believe with equal conviction that any such action would effectively reject the sovereign right of Israel to defend itself, indicate support for Hamas, and contribute to a rising tide of global antisemitism. We have also heard from those who have argued that the College should not be invested in companies that manufacture military equipment of any kind, for any armed conflict or purpose, and from others still who believe that it is not the role of the College to weigh in on issues unrelated to our core mission of teaching and learning.

The Board believes that this state of profound disagreement, both as to the action to be taken and its propriety, is very different from the two previous instances when the College took endowment action reflecting broad and deep agreement both on and beyond our campus in response to events in South Africa and Sudan. While the recent resolutions approved by the AAS Senate and the faculty received majority votes of those present, a substantial minority exists among students and faculty that opposes these resolutions—and many alumni have expressed opposing positions, as well. The Board respects that these resolutions were approved through deliberative processes that resulted in the approval of the majority. It also feels an obligation to listen carefully to and consider the significant minority that opposed them.

Disagreement and dissent are a necessary component of Amherst’s educational mission because education advances when we openly share our perspectives and consider those of others. For that reason, the College must protect the right of individuals and groups in our community to criticize governments and institutions, including our own. Yet those who seek this divestment action are asking the Board to do something different: in the face of internal disagreement, to instead lend our institutional voice to criticism of a national government on an issue unrelated to our mission—to move from being an institution that creates the space and provides support for criticism to becoming a critic itself.

The Board believes that the proposed endowment action would amount to the College endorsing the moral and political position of some members of our community and rejecting the moral and political position of other members of the Amherst community. Such action would directly violate our principled responsibility to foster a forum for a broad range of positions and to offer opportunities for education so that students, faculty, and others can confront and debate evidence. Such action could chill dialogue and conversations throughout the College and deepen divisions at a time of profound conflict when no clear consensus prevails and when some of our colleagues and classmates would even find it threatening to their safety, as they have expressed. These are real consequences with a direct impact on the immediate and long-term wellbeing of our community.

Practical Considerations of Divestment

There also remain significant practical barriers to any form of endowment action. In accordance with the contemporary structure of endowments and responsible investment practices in higher education, approximately 95% of the College’s endowment capital is invested by outside managers whose decisions and strategy we do not control; many of these investments are also pooled with investments from other institutions in long-term funds with widely established restrictions on access.

Even if there were universal consensus in support of divestment and shared agreement about which companies “supply military equipment used in the present campaign in Gaza”—as the faculty resolution frames it—it would be unrealistic for us to seek to compel our current outside investment managers to remove these companies from their funds. We would, therefore, need to liquidate holdings at potentially poor valuations and either move our endowment capital to other managers whose current investments do not include these companies or directly manage the capital, which would not align with responsible practices for institutional investment. These actions could have significant immediate and long-term negative impacts on returns and—because the endowment directly supports 56% of the College’s annual operating budget—on financial aid, faculty and staff salaries and benefits, and operations.

The Board’s Decision

Guided by the fundamental principle of respecting the diversity of opinion in our community—and noting the practical challenges—the Board has decided unanimously not to pursue the divestment actions requested in the faculty and AAS resolutions.

To be very clear, the Board’s position is neither an endorsement of Israel’s campaign in Gaza nor a statement in support of violence rather than peace. It is, instead, a carefully considered response to the demand that the institution adopt a defined position on global events that are of intense interest to many at Amherst—events subject to ongoing debate and disagreement whose outcome will be shaped not by our investment decisions but by the decisions of governments across the world.

We know that this decision will disappoint and even anger many in our community, particularly those who have publicly advocated for divestment and will remain engaged in conversation and activism and continue to advocate for peace. This decision and statement will not—and should not—be the end of our dialogue. 

We fully support continued colloquy and learning around issues and conflicts in the Middle East and the many other difficult domestic and global issues we as a society face. We expect that this particular dialogue will take the form of continued activism and protest, and the College will continue to protect that criticism, so long as it does not cross the line into harassment or hate and does not directly interfere with core instructional and administrative functions of the College. While our disagreements may be intense, resolute, and personally felt, we owe it to each other as fellow members of a community to listen and respond with respect.

Other Actions Being Actively Discussed

Students, faculty, and alumni have also raised important questions about the standards by which the Board makes decisions about the endowment and possible actions related to divestment, the channels through which such actions should be proposed and how they should be evaluated, and the transparency of such decisions. Concurrently, some trustees have raised the question of whether the endowment is ever the correct vehicle for the College to express a position on a matter of morality or politics.

The Board realizes that it must address these important issues and continues to discuss the student-drafted proposal to create a campus committee that would make recommendations on such actions in the future. It has become apparent that members of the Amherst community interpret the role of the endowment in very different ways.

Significant disagreements remain about the moral justification and practical feasibility of extricating our investments from geopolitical events while preserving the endowment as a sustainable means of supporting future generations of Amherst College students, faculty, and staff. The trustees are committed to creating more opportunities for members of the community to speak with them directly about their views on these broader questions.

It is also essential that Amherst commit to what is at the core of our mission as a college: to be a place of education and to use its function to provide space for all members of the community to learn from differing perspectives on what is transpiring in Israel, Gaza, and the Middle East more generally. The College should—and will—seek ways to use its purpose as an institution of higher education to support scholars who have been displaced or had their work upended by this conflict, just as it has done for scholars from other parts of the world.

We respect and are grateful for the many ways that our students, faculty, staff, and alumni have made, and will continue to make, their voices heard on these important and challenging issues.


Michael A. Elliott ’92

Andrew J. Nussbaum ’85
Chair, Amherst College Board of Trustees

Chantal E. Kordula ’94
Chair-Elect, Amherst College Board of Trustees