Duties Beyond Borders
IN EC 10 review sections, they caution against spending too much time going over old crib sheets and blue books. The material, they say is so volatile that the questions may stay the same, but the answers change. A similar point applies to South African divestiture, whose viability and urgency has been dramatized by events both in and outside the University in the past few years. Which is why President Bok, in simply rehashing his 1979 open letter on the subject, fails to adequately justify his refusal to sell Harvard's tainted stock.
In the updated abridged version released in Friday's Gazette Bok simply repeats his view that Harvard can best bring about change by working within the companies holding stock in South Africa, rather than by cutting ties with them. But this position has, in the past four years, been exposed as disingenuous smoke, as the Corporation has repeatedly abstained on, rather than supported, shareholder resolutions encouraging more ethical corporate behavior.
Bok further threatens that divesture would cost the University "in the millions of dollars" which would "divest substantial sums of money from salaries and scholarships." The unsubstantiated claim that money would be lost must be questioned in light of profitable divestiture by other universities, such as the University of Michigan, and by the city of Cambridge, as well as by the willingness of the state of Massachusetts to sell its stock in companies dealing with the apartheid state.
Indeed, a similar objection was initially raised against the escrow fund Endowment for Divesture, but financial aid officials themselves quickly denied that the alternative fund would diminish scholarship offers.
In limiting himself to the questions of divesture, Bok completely sidesteps the issue of purchasing new stocks, and what ethical considerations Harvard should take into account. The new open letter does, however, give a disturbing implicit answer that morality has no place in Harvard's business dealings. The letter notes that because other countries are evil, it would be inconsistent to treat South Africa differently than perhaps Guatemala, EI Salvador, or the Soviet Union. But this is actually inconsistent with Bok's earlier statements and actions.
Four years ago he acknowledged that the South African regime was an especially abhorrent one that merited special attention. And since then, the Corporation has followed a policy of not investing in banks which loan money to the South African government.
The most disturbing part of the letter is its conclusion, which states that "realistically, there is little that a university in the United States can do to overcome the evils and injustices in a land far removed from our own." The implication, then, is that it shouldn't even try, which helps to make that pronouncement an unfortunate self-fulfilling prophecy.