Impact Worthy

I was excited to read “Impact Worthy” (spring 2017). One of my clearest memories as an undergrad was when the provost came into my geology class and drew a pie chart on the board showing us where the money that paid for our Williams education came from and how it was spent. That’s when I first learned that 50 percent of each student’s annual cost of education is subsidized by the endowment. Understanding how the endowment is funded, invested and deployed should be something every Williams student is readily exposed to. But one section of the magazine interview baffled me a bit. President Falk stated, “As important as climate change is, it’s not more important than access to Williams.” The college still needs to hone its thesis around sustainable investing. We can all acknowledge that divestment is not an appropriate reaction for lots of reasons (expensive, difficult to execute with co-mingled funds, limited actual impact, etc.), but the interview, unfortunately, glosses over the fact that there are lots of ways to promote sustainability across the endowment’s portfolio besides divestment. If the endowment is fundamental to promoting the college’s mission, then the way in which we invest that endowment should promote that mission. Not just $50 million of it, but the entire thing.


Williams’ commitment to sustainability is commendable, but regarding divestiture, President Falk’s statement that “as important as climate change is, it’s not more important than access to Williams” is disturbing in its binary logic. One, strong evidence shows that divestiture need not slow growth. Two, Williams need not “divest fully” all at once. And, three, smartly scheduled, benchmarked impact investing can transform the portfolio to clean energy. Williams is committed to preparing students to live in a future today’s trustees will never see. President Falk’s words notwithstanding, there is one thing more important than students having access to Williams: Students having access to a planet worth inhabiting. Stanford, Yale and others are acting. The climate continues to deteriorate. How long will Williams wait?


Impact Worthy” correctly mentions that 11 percent of Williams students come from the bottom 40 percent of the income bracket. But also: 18 percent of Williams students come from the top 1 percent of the income bracket—that is, households making more than $630,000 per year. That’s just too many super-rich students. Williams needs to be far more aggressive to position itself as a leading institution of socioeconomic mobility. We should immediately set a modest, initial goal to have at least 15 percent of our first-year students come from the bottom 40 percent of household incomes (like Barnard) and less than 10 percent from the top 1 percent of household incomes (like Swarthmore).


Humble Beginnings

An essay by President Emeritus John Chandler (“From Humble Beginnings,” spring 2017) tells the astonishing story of his personal journey. I hope all readers will appreciate it. Alongside the remarks from President Adam Falk about the college’s extraordinary commitment to financial aid (“Lifting Us Up”), I am even prouder to be an Eph.


I wish I had known more about President Chandler’s early childhood when he was our Chi Psi faculty advisor. His childhood experiences must have given him the ability to see what the future could be, prepare himself for that future and bring others along with him. Those of us who were on the opposite side of the “fraternity issue” admired and respected Professor Chandler and do so to this day. His vision was the right one for Williams. The college and its students are blessed to have him.



My goodness @williamscollege, the spring2017 issue of #williamsmag is visually, aesthetically and conceptually stunning!

—Rhon Manigault-Bryant, Williams associate dean of the faculty and Africana studies professor, @doctorrmb, March 15, 2017