Today, President Liebowitz of Middlebury College sent a letter to students, staff and faculty announcing that the College will not be divesting from fossil fuels anytime soon. Asking “Will divestment ever be more than a symbolic statement?” the President and Board of Trustees alluded to “fiduciary responsibility” and “uncertainty about impact” as key factors in their decision.’s founding team are all Middlebury College graduates, and we were deeply saddened by our alma mater’s refusal to come to terms with the scope of the climate crisis. We wrote this open letter to President Liebowitz to share our thoughts:

Dear President Liebowitz and members of the Board of Trustees:

We were disappointed but not surprised to read President Liebowitz’s letter today announcing the college won’t yet divest from fossil fuels.

We take issue with his basic idea—that divestment is mostly a symbolic argument, associated with too many unanswered questions and high risk. It’s in fact a practical tool to reduce the political power of the wealthiest industry on the planet. But even if you accept his terms, we believe Middlebury can do more. Though the available data shows endowments would have made far more money in the last decade had they divested from fossil fuels, great colleges are about more than money. Middlebury’s worth is not measured by the fact that it will open a new sushi bar this week—it’s measured by the centuries of thinking and reasoning in its halls, and the action for the greater good that followed that thinking. Our experience at Middlebury shaped our lives in profound ways, precisely because the college’s leadership, students, faculty, and staff wrested with living up to its values.

We are proud and loyal alumni of Middlebury—it’s where we helped launch, on the back of the education we received. The Sunday Night Group was where we first experimented with creative actions, media campaigning, organizing, and building political power, all tools that we rely on today! We will not waver in our support for the college, but of course this decision puts all of us who care about its future in a quandary. Our colleague and co-founder Bill McKibben has announced his plan to donate a $50,000 prize he’ll receive later this fall to the college, to be put into escrow until such time as they divest; we’ll do likewise with our smaller gifts, and encourage others to do the same.

In the end, we don’t think Middlebury’s values are fully represented in the decision of the Board not to divest, and this is a disservice to the students—who voted overwhelmingly to divest—and to faculty and alumni who supported them. We were all present when President Liebowitz and the Board agreed to commit  the college to Carbon Neutrality by 2016, and we therefore know what a powerful signal it sends to the college community, and what powerful things can be achieved, when we are in agreement. We’ll welcome the chance to continue the discussion over the semesters ahead. Though many colleges and religious denominations have already divested, and even city governments from Seattle to Providence, we always knew that the richest institutions would be the toughest. And this particular institution’s commitment to doing its part to stop catastrophic climate change matters a great deal to us, and we believe the decision can change.

We love Middlebury, and that’s exactly why we will continue to pursue this robust debate. Our goal as concerned alumni is to have a vigorous discussion on this topic, as openly as possible, so we will be sending this note to regional press following the story, and some of the college blogs.




Phil Aroneanu, ‘06.5

Will Bates ‘06

May Boeve ‘06.5

Jamie Henn ‘07

Jason Kowalski ‘07

Jeremy Osborn ‘06.5

Jonathan Warnow ‘06.5