Bok Calls Divestiture Unjustifiable
President Bok released a letter yesterday saying the total divestiture of Harvard's South Africa-related holdings probably would not promote the end of apartheid but would undermine Harvard's financial stability and academic independence.
Bok's letter restates the position of the Harvard Corporation that the best means to alter corporate behavior in South Africa and help South African blacks is "to vote as a shareholder and continue to communicate in other ways with management."
Bok's statement is the second in a series of letters expressing a reluctance to have Harvard act, in the words of the latest letter, "as part of a pressure group using the leverage of our purchases, our endowment, and our prestige as a university to push for social and political ends."
Theda R. Skocpol, associate professor of Sociology, said yesterday that Bok's letter is "calculatedly confusing" and that it states only that "Harvard is not committed to an active and visible policy to oppose U.S. corporate support of the South African regime."
In the letter, Bok restates the contentions of his first open letter by saying "total divestment would undermine the willingness of outside groups to respect the academic independence of the University," and result in financial losses that could "run into millions of dollars."
Kenneth J. Arrow, Conan University professor and a Nobel prize winning economist, said in a letter last month that the Corporation's estimates of both the long and short term costs of divestiture are too high, although "there is necessarily a wide degree of uncertainty about predicting effects of any stock market transactions."
Bok's statement then deals with the question of the support of corporate withdrawal from South Africa, which he says would have little effect on apartheid and probably would not set off a chain reaction among institutions supporting withdrawals.
Bok also states that "black South Africans, as well as observers in this country, are sharply divided on whether withdrawal will do more to overcome apartheid."
Skocpol said, however, that corporate withdrawal from South Africa is the best means of bringing about change in South Africa because "most corporations are doing very valuable services for the South African government."
Aaron Estis '80, a board member of the Black Students Association, said yesterday Bok's statement is a "rehashing of past arguments" which ignores the case for withdrawal the Corporation supported in previous statements.
The Corporation said in a statement issued last April that it was not certain whether withdrawal would lead to the end of apartheid or to more restrictions. But the Corporation stated that it would support withdrawal if a company refused to state its policies or refused to implement equitable employment practices and supported the South African government more than it benefited the nation's blacks.
Estis said the points Bok raises against corporate withdrawal represent a "retreat from the Corporation's statement" that withdrawal could in some cases aid black South Africans effectively.
Skocpol said the best means for Harvard to promote withdrawal would be through "public campaigns in support of shareholder resolutions followed by divestiture of corporations most strategically involved in South Africa.