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GW’s fossil fuel investments drop below 2 percent, trustees say

Sage Russell | Assistant Photo Editor
Board of Trustees Chair Grace Speights leads a meeting in May.

Officials said the University’s investments in fossil fuel companies have decreased from roughly 3 percent to 2 percent since 2020 at a Board of Trustees meeting Friday.

Avram Tucker, the Board’s secretary, said GW’s investment in companies that earn a majority of their revenue from burning fossil fuels is under 2 percent and said the University is on track to fully divest from the companies by 2025. Trustees also introduced the new Alumni Association president and announced donation totals but shied away from announcing GW’s new moniker, saying an update is impending.

Former University President Thomas LeBlanc said about 3 percent of University investments were in the fossil-fuel industry in 2020. The Board voted in 2020 to completely divest from fossil-fuel companies by 2025 after years of student protests calling for the University to cut ties with the fossil-fuel industry.

“We are still on target to eliminate investments in companies who derive a majority of their revenue from fossil fuels by 2025,” Tucker said.

GW Alumni Association President Will Alexander III said officials raised $11 million in donations this academic year, about $2.5 million away from the $13.5 million annual givings goal. He said Development and Alumni Relations will likely reach the $13.5 million goal because the months of May and June in prior years have been “productive” for fundraising.

“The staff within Development and Alumni Relations are optimistic that we will indeed attain that goal,” Alexander said.

Alexander said the University has more than 17,000 total donors, about 1,500 donors away from the 18,500 donor goal set and announced at the October Board meeting. He said Development and Alumni Relations officials have made “incremental” progress because the 17,000 donor count is higher than the number of donors in May 2022.

He said the University fell short on alumni engagement goals for Giving Day and Commencement attendance but said more than 10,000 alumni participated in rating potential moniker options.

Community members could rate moniker options through online surveys during “Moniker Madness,” a two-phase engagement initiative from February to April to collect feedback on moniker options. The Board voted to retire the Colonials moniker last June after students said the moniker glorified the legacy of international colonialism, slavery and racial discrimination.

“That allowed us to start to have a conversation with folks that we hadn’t had a chance to talk to in a while,” Alexander said. “The Alumni Association is very much looking forward to the outcome of what will be selected.”

Mark Chichester, the vice chair of the Board, said officials will announce updates on the moniker selection “soon.”

Board of Trustees Chair Grace Speights introduced Maxwell Gocala-Nguyen as the next president of the GW Alumni Association, who will take over Alexander’s position July 1.

Gocala-Nguyen said the association is in the process of replacing nine leaving members and that he is prioritizing recruitment of members that represent all of GW’s 12 schools and colleges. He said he connected with “new faces” who had not previously interacted with the alumni community through virtual chats last year and hopes to continue engaging with them after graduation.

“We have distinct opportunities to create successful scholarship programs to do wonderful mural projects to make sure that our community is seen and heard,” Gocala-Nguyen said. “It is my passion to make sure that those are fulfilled.”

Speights said trustee Sam Shekar will end his term May 31 after serving on the Board since 2021. She said the Board benefitted from Shekar’s expertise as a retired assistant surgeon general when addressing issues regarding GW’s medical enterprise.

“We thank trustee Shekar for his outstanding service to the institution and dedication to advancing the mission of the university as a member of the Board of Trustees,” Speights said.

Speights presented a resolution of appreciation for interim University President Mark Wrighton at the meeting. She said Wrighton “guided” the creation of shared governance principles and leveraged the voices of faculty, administration and trustees in decision making, which the Board approved in April to confirm that faculty should be involved in “key decision making.”

Speights said the Board created the Mark S. Wrighton Professorship in the Columbian College of Arts and Science, effective June 1.

“Mark, you have led our great institution with distinction and integrity,” Speights said. “Though you led GW for just 18 months, to you it probably seems a lot longer. You positioned us for even greater success well into our third century.”

Trustees voted to appoint Aaron Bates, an Elliott School of International Affairs alumnus and head of ultra-high net worth and growth strategies at Bernstein Private Wealth Management, Reid Liffman, a School of Business alumnus and head of U.S. real estate at Angelo, Gordon & Co. and Regina James to the Board.

Speights also introduced Student Association President Arielle Geismar to the Board, who was sworn into her role earlier this month.

Geismar said the Board should consider restructuring student organization funding because funding requests are more than five times greater than the $200,000 the Board allots for student organizations. She said GW EMeRG, the University’s EMS service, receives all funding from the SA and a larger budget for student organization funding would allow the SA could fund “smaller” requests from other organizations.

EMeRG received $9,500 from the SA for the fall 2023 semester, the most funding out of all nonclub sports organizations but less than a third of their $27,000 funding request.

She added that the Board should eliminate fees for student organizations to use on-campus event venues like the Jack Morton Auditorium and the City View Room in the Elliott School of International Affairs because organizations struggle to afford the cost to reserve the spaces, which cost thousands of dollars.

“If we try to stay within this breadcrumb of funding, students will lose out on valuable connections and will fail to attract students who will thrive in extracurriculars,” Geismar said.

Geismar said the Board should reconsider the decision to arm some GWPD officers because it could put Black students and students of color, who are “disproportionately” affected by police referrals, at risk. She said she and other students passionate about racial justice are “gravely” concerned about the arming of GWPD and the Board should consult faculty in reevaluating the decision.

Wrighton announced last month that GWPD will arm about 20 out of 50 officers with a handgun next fall to expedite their response to developing emergencies.

“I say this not in judgment, but in earnest, to work together and address students’ concerns,” Geismar said. “We both want to keep students safe.”

Grace Chinowsky, Rachel Moon and Fiona Riley contributed reporting.

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About the Contributor
Ianne Salvosa, News Editor
Ianne Salvosa is a junior majoring in journalism and international affairs from Lake Saint Louis, Missouri. She is The Hatchet's 2023-2024 news editor for the Administration and Finance beat. She previously served as an assistant news editor for the Administration and Finance beat and a contributing news editor for the Academics and Administration beats for Vol. 119.
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