The Faculty Discusses South Africa Faculty Meeting Debate (cont.)

The following text is a transcript from the taped recording of the full Faculty meeting, which discussed in part University policy on its investments in corporations that operate in South Africa. The second half of the transcript will appear in tomorrow's Crimson.

The Crimson thanks WHRM FM for the tapes of the Faculty meeting.


Mr. President, I think that I owe the Faculty a brief explanation of this docket item. Though I will speak today only for myself, I acted for a group of colleagues. When I asked for this discussion; colleagues who share with me a dissatisfaction with the recent report of the Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility, and who share with me a sense that this Faculty should talk about the issues raised by Harvard's shareholding in corporations that have plants or do significant business in South Africa.

For myself, I don't believe that this Faculty, as a corporate body, ought to take political positions or make political pronouncements or test unnecessarily the limits of our collegiality. But here is a case where the University, through its legal officers, does have to take a position. As a shareholder the University has, as President Bok has recently written, an obligation to vote on issues placed before it, concerning the management of the corporations in which Harvard holds stock. What the role of the Faculty should be in reaching the decision that obligation requires, I don't know. I have no proposals to make, except the one I have already made.

But when the issues are an important as those raised by South African racism, we at least meet and argue about them. So let me begin the arguing. And the place to begin, I think, is with last year's ACSR report. That is a document subject to interpretation, and I shall suggest a strong reading of it. But however it is read, it is clear that this year's report represents a significant retreat from the positions staked out there. The first report was written with considerable force, boldness, collaboration; the second with an extraordinary, and an unexplained, trepidation.

Let me give examples that I think will open up the key issues. The earlier report clearly asserts the special character of South African racism, distinguishing it from other, more ordinary sorts of tyranny, not quite on the grounds that I would choose. I would have emphasized rather more the particular cruelty and the particular degradation involved in singling out a nation or a religious group or a race for systematic oppression.

But the case is made in that earlier report. The current report is hesitant and ambiguous on this issue. It claims that the special features of the South African case are controversial, as they no doubt are, but it draws back here, as everywhere else, from saying anything about the substance of the controversy, and thus leaves it an open question as to whether this case, any more than any other possible cases, ought to be of special concern to the University. The earlier report places the burden of argument squarely on corporations doing business in South Africa. "It is our opinion," last year's ACSR wrote, "that the case for singling out South Africa is compelling, that U.S. companies who choose to remain in South Africa must, on balance, be a constructive force in facing apartheid, and that the burden rests on those firms to demonstrate that their presence there is constructive." And then the report goes on to make it clear that demonstration will be difficult because the University in evaluating evidence presented by corporations is to take into account "the extent to which the company is willing to support the implementation of new policies designed to ameliorate the effects of apartheid even when such implementation may run counter to South African custom and test the limits of South African law." And then the report goes on to suggest that when that kind of demonstration can't be made, when the University finds that a company is in substantial non-compliance with the standards, the very high standards it has established, it should "initiate or support a shareholder resolution advocating the termination of the company's South African activities."

The current report, by contrast, manages with great difficult to conclude that Harvard can legitimately seek in formation from companies in which it holds stock, but it avoids placing the burden of argument on the corporations, or anywhere. It suggests that if information is not forthcoming there is nothing to be done, and its strongest statement on corporate withdrawal is that it is not prepared to make a blanket recommendation against initiating shareholder resolutions of the sort called for in last year's report. The main aim of this year's report, it seems to me, is to minimize the controversy it recognizes to be unavoidable, but the critical public it has in mind when it sets that goal seems to be corporate management, for the report is hardly likely to minimize controversy at Harvard University.

Now, what should Harvard's position be? Some of my friends and colleagues will speak today for divestiture. That is not my own position, though I appreciate the feelings of frustration and anger that it expresses. I worry that a political campaign for divestiture would necessarily focus whatever emotion it mobilized against the University, which is not directly involved in South Africa, rather than against the corporations, which are. And that seems to me the wrong focus, politically and morally. It represents, or it might represent, a politics and a morality of convenience, seizing on the nearest target rather than the right target.

The better focus, I think, is on those American corporations that are deeply and directly involved in South Africa. The appropriate program is not University divestiture, but corporate withdrawal. Last year's ACSR stopped short of that as a general program because its authors were committed to a case-by-case approach, for which they actually provided a carefully drawn-up timetable. But we are already far behind schedule, and the current report doesn't even refer to the timetable. Case-by-Case, I think, is now pretty clearly revealed as an impossible strategy. Conscientiously undertaken, it would consume more time, more energy, more resources than the University can, or should, expend. But if we take the special character of South African racism seriously, then it does not seem wrong to argue that we should prejudge the cases, as last year's report came very near to saying. That is, we should insist that it is the corporations that must prove the anti-apartheid character of their activities. We must insist that the standards of proof be very high, and we must recognize that they are unlikely to be met. And then the general policy of the University must be to work for the termination of corporate activity in South Africa. And the means, routinely, to make a fuss at shareholder meetings.

One reason, I should think the chief reason, for holding on to the stock, is precisely in order to make the fuss, to vote for, and to join with others, in initiating resolutions calling for corporate withdrawal. That at least is the position I have come to after the controversy of the past year; I should confess that it reflects, I think, an old-Left preference for staying and fighting rather than washing one's hands and walking away, and in putting it forward I hope done enough to start the argument that we should have. Thank you.


Mr. President, fellow colleagues, I had hoped to speak rather long, but in deference to my colleagues I will keep my remarks short.

I suppose I can begin by agreeing with Mr. Perkins in suggesting that the carrot should be pulled out before it even begins to grow. Anytime I address this body, I'm always overcome by feelings of fear and trepidation, a fear that I may say incorrect things and give offense to sensibilities; trepidation, a fear that I may say incorrect things and give offense to sensibilities; trepidation that genuine sentiments and concerns may be interpreted as expressions of hate and bitterness. Nonetheless, it seems to me that we enter into the University, which says on Dexter Gate "Enter to Grow in Wisdom," when I leave it says "Depart to Serve Better Thy Country and Thy Kind." And I think in any discussion on South Africa, it's better to draw on the past. And I thought I should draw upon an unrepentant racist, Mr. Hinton Helper (?), who in 1857 wrote about an impending crisis. Among the things he said, he said it may be painful but nonetheless profitable, to refer occasionally to the history of the past, to listen to the admonition of experience, and to learn lessons of wisdom from the efforts and actions of those who have preceded us, the drama of human life.