As one of the world’s preeminent universities, Harvard continues to be a target for divestment activists. But to their dismay, Harvard keeps rejecting them.
Recently, students decided to put yet another pro-divestment referendum up for vote to the Undergraduate Council. The referendum asks for Harvard to “completely divest its endowment from holdings in the fossil fuel industry.”
This isn’t the first time Harvard students will be voting on the issue. According to the Harvard Crimson, “In the 2012 UC election, 72 percent of voters — or roughly 2,600 students — voted in favor of urging the University to divest from fossil fuel companies.”
In response to the latest vote push, University spokesperson Melodie Jackson drafted an email statement to The Crimson, stating that Harvard will continue to play a “crucial” role in “tackling” climate change, “and Harvard Management Company will continue to actively incorporate environmental, social, and governance factors – including climate change – into its investment work,” but their prior decision remains unchanged. Harvard University will not divest from fossil fuel companies.
“While we agree on the urgency of this global challenge, we respectfully disagree with divestment activists on the means by which a university should confront it,” she wrote. “Harvard is fully committed to leadership in this area through research, education, community engagement, dramatically reducing its own carbon footprint, and using our campus as a test bed for piloting and proving solutions.”
Jackson makes clear that the University has chosen to pursue more active forms of engagement to combat climate concerns. The University even went so far as to develop a microsite detailing their sustainability efforts as an institution. Instead of empty gestures, Harvard has chosen to fund research projects that examine sustainability issues around the world and develop substantive technological and policy solutions, to help mitigate climate impact. These proactive research initiatives are funded in part by the very endowment that campus activists seek to reduce by calling for divestment.
This statement prompted The Crimson to take a stand against the divestment push, calling it a “misuse of UC efforts,” and “well-intentioned but myopic” in a recent Editorial.
“We believe that these referenda are inappropriate and represent a misuse of UC efforts. Divestment is a complex and multifaceted political tactic, and the Council does not have any authority to effect change on this front. (…) Overall, the Council’s choice to include these referenda appears well-intentioned but myopic. In urging our peers to vote no on these two referenda, we encourage them to think deeply about the wider ramifications for Harvard.”
Without mincing any words, the Crimson Board was clear in the rebuke of the council’s efforts. They cite the futility, ineffectiveness and overall risk of divestment – particularly when Harvard’s financial future is already uncertain. Calling the referenda “myopic,” the Editorial Board keenly pinpoints the fault with, not just the referendum, but divestment in general. It is a short-sighted non-solution that is largely symbolic and poses a greater risk to those it allegedly helps than the companies it is supposed to hurt (it doesn’t even affect the companies, really).
The latest divestment push comes nearly six months after 28th Harvard University President, Drew Faust stepped down for retirement. Let’s remember, In 2013, Faust univocally dismissed divestment as having a negligible impact on fossil fuel companies and called on Harvard’s students and faculties to find more effective ways to engage environmental concerns. Similarly, Faust’s successor, current University President Lawrence S. Bascow said that divestment is not in the cards for the private Ivy League school.
“The University should not use the endowment… to achieve political ends or particular policy ends,” he said. “There are other ways that the University tries to influence public policy through our scholarship, through our research, but we don’t think that the endowment is an appropriate way to do that.”
As the saying goes, the definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different response. This is a trend we’ve continued to see emerge on Harvard’s campus. Instead of pushing for failed and ineffective measures, divestment supporters would be better suited following the lead of the Crimson Editorial Board and their University leadership in opting for actionable solutions.