Reform the ACSR

STUDENTS WILL SELECT House representatives this week who will choose one undergraduate representative on the 12-member panel that ostensibly advises Harvard on the social issues involved in its investment policies, the Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility (ACSR). As students prepare to cast their ballots in these all-too-easily ignored elections, they should be aware that the ACSR currently serves largely as administrative window-dressing, a source of legitimation for the socially retrograde shareholding activities of the Harvard Corporation. Especially this year, when Harvard students for the first time in five years have taken a mass-based stand on a social issue involved in shareholding--the issue of U.S. investment in white supremacist South Africa--Harvard students must elect a progressive undergraduate representative who is willing to act as a vocal advocate of a complete reform of the ACSR.

The ACSR, now entering its sixth year of existence, is incredibly biased in its composition. Composed of equal numbers of alumni, faculty and students, the administration generally selects financiers and corporate executives as the committee's alumni members, and faculty members who teach business, corporate law and managerial economics. Thus, when the Harvard Corporation concurs with the ACSR's recommendation, it does not mean that Harvard has "accepted" the ACSR's advice; it means only that there is an identity of views between two groups composed of like-minded people.

More importantly, the ACSR, a group which is supposed to represent the University community in advising the Corporation, has chosen in the past to act behind closed doors, withholding the most basic information about its deliberations from the constituency it represents. The ACSR has steadfastly refused to grant the press access to its meetings. Last year, the committee did not release statements explaining its recommendations to the Harvard community until several weeks after the Corporation had accepted or rejected those recommendations. The committee has even refused to make public the votes by which it decides on its recommendations. By operating in a vacuum, the ACSR has gone out of its way to avoid actions that might be construed as putting pressure on the Harvard Corporation. Obviously, the committee's potential leverage with Harvard will develop only through an effort to command popular support for its recommendations.

Undergraduates must join in electing an ACSR representative who will take a progressive stand on the social questions Harvard confronts on shareholding issues. But the voices of one or two progressive advocates on the ACSR is not enough. Undergraduates must elect a representative who will work for the complete reorganization of the structure and operations of the ACSR, so that the committee can start to become a powerful, representative voice for the Harvard community on important social issues.