THE GENIUS of the anti-nukes movement that blossomed last spring was its grassroots nature. Beginning in Vermont and spreading across much of the country, town councils and local groups registered their opposition to heightened military spending and the prospects for nuclear war. Tonight, in an open meeting in Science Center B at 8 p.m., the Harvard community has the chance to decide if and how it will join the growing number of groups and institutions that have repudiated nuclear war and the development of nuclear weapons.
At issue at the open meeting of the Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility (ACSR) will be Harvard's millions of dollars of investments in companies that make nuclear weapons or parts of nuclear weapons. The University owns more than $20 million of General Electric stock, almost $5 million of Du. Pont stock, and about $20 million of AT&T; stock, among other nuclear holdings, according to the most recent financial report.
Nuclear activists say Harvard should divest of these holdings--or at least use shareholder resolutions to vote against nuclear weapons work--as a symbolic show of opposition to the arms race. Some liken the debate to the one over Harvard holdings in companies that work in South Africa--an area where student protests have secured a formal Harvard ban on investing in banks that make direct loans to the repressive Both regime. Harvard officials object that symbolic University gestures like divestiture actually strip Harvard of leverage over its holdings, an argument that can be expected to be transferred to the nuclear investments issue.
What both sides should realize is that the issue of nuclear holdings is complex indeed, and that only thoughtful debate can lead to a policy that is at once prudent and ethical. Consider the following ways in which the nuclear issue differs from the South Africa one:
* While a firm is either in or out of South Africa, corporations are often tied to the sprawling weapons industry only indirectly, and those ties are often only a minute part of its overall operations. Partial divestiture, for instance, might well prove sensible, while it would be hard to explain a halfway step in the more clear-cut South Africa case.
* Many shareholder resolutions in the nuclear area seem misdirected. Harvard last year had to consider a resolution asking AT&T; to set up a committee to study the implications of its running a non-profit nuclear weapons lab for the U.S. Energy Department. What the resolution failed to address was the upwards of $700 million worth of Defense Department contracts earned by the communications giant.
* The impact of a firm University statement against nuclear holdings might actually prove far greater than the University's divestiture of South African holdings. The nuclear debate is still attracting much attention, and the effects of a strong Harvard statement against weapons production could ripple through the country. The University is, after all, committed to improving national discourse on nuclear issues, a mission President Bok outlined last Commencement Day.
Tonight's open meeting should shed light on those complex ethical questions. It is also, realistically, students' best chance to influence the Corporation. A similar session last year revealed deep student sentiment against lifting the South Africa bank ban, stopping cold the Corporation's attempt to retreat from it.
Nuclear weapons are the issue of the day, casting a long pall over our lives. That pall will only begin to recede once enough governments and local institutions voice their fears. Tonight's open meeting should prove a fertile way for Harvard to decide how to voice its own, and whether a symbolic repudiation of nuclear arms investments is the right way to do it. Be there.
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