The Week Harvard Had to Listen
But the Corporation Turned a Deaf Ear
After months of student unrest over Harvard's holdings in firms operating in South Africa, countless meetings of the Advisory Commitee on Shareholder Responsibility (ACSR), two open hearings and several Corporation meetings on the subject, the Harvard Corporation announced its decision Thursday morning. The result hardly pleased students, thousands of whom took to the streets the same night in protest.
The Corporation, like the ACSR, decided to advocate a case-by-case analysis of "Harvard companies" operating under the apartheid system, to decide which ones it believes should stay and which it should ask to leave.
But unlike the ACSR, the Corporation did not advocate the immediate sale of all stocks and bonds in banks that lend money to the South African government. Instead, the Corporation will discuss with those banks the moral issues involved in loaning money to Pretoria before deciding on the question of divestiture.
The University sold its equity stock in such banks this spring, but still owns some non-voting stock.
The United Front, a coalition of seven student groups opposed to apartheid, had called for the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. firms from South Africa and the immediate divestiture of Harvard's holdings in the offending banks.
"It's a slap in the face," one member of the Front said after reading the Corporation's 13-page report.
The group decided to slap Harvard back, sponsoring a torchlight march on Thursday night that 3500 people joined.
Student objections centered on the fact that the report does not call for any immediate action to help get U.S. firms out of South Africa, and may in fact never bring about such action. Although the report pledges Harvard to support shareholder resolutions in firms whose product lines directly support apartheid in South Africa, some recent Corporation decisions do not exactly fit into that category. After the Corporation voted this week to abstain on shareholder resolutions calling on Motorola and the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company to leave South Africa, students are not exactly holding their breaths for a swift change in Harvard's policy.