A Parting Shot

Some parting thoughts:

THREE TIMES LAST year on this page I affixed my name to positions urging Harvard to stand firm on its South African investments.

I believed then that the University should act pragmatically and responsibly, that it ought to do more than just engage in sanctimonious symbolism which would do little, in reality, to help South Africa's oppressed Black majority. In all three positions I said I supported everyone at Harvard calling on the Afrikaner regime to change its ways. I said I supported Harvard action, through proxy votes and other means, that would persuade the University's portfolio companies to go beyond instituting workplace reforms and advancement opportunities for Blacks and actively oppose apartheid. Most importantly, I supported having the federal government put the heat on South Africa, through both diplomacy and well-coordinated, effective economic sanctions.

But I didn't support divestment. It offered, I believed, no promise of accomplishing anything constructive to end apartheid. Rather, in June, I--and just five others--wrote on this page that divestment was nothing more than an intellectual cop-out, a Pontius-Pilate-like washing of the hands.

Well, call me a cop-out. And give me some soap.

It's time to wash my hands.

SIX MONTHS AGO I truly believed divestment was the wrong move. Maybe I'm slow but now I believe it is the wisest course to pursue. I didn't know the answer back then, and I doubt I know it now, but if the last six months have proven anything it's that neither investment nor intensive dialogue has worked. I don't apologize for not knowing that last June; nor do I particularly care that some may believe I have now taken the easy way out. We have no business in South Africa.

If someone wishes to disagree, and can show me that Harvard's investments, its policy of intensive dialogue or its whopping commitment to helping South African Blacks through sending Harvard students to South African government-sponsored schools has wrought even the tiniest of changes in that racially torn country, then I'll consider not washing my hands.

I gave Harvard the benefit of the doubt. It's privy to far more information than I or virtually any other student here. I assumed, and still believe I made the correct assumption, that the University knew best how to influence change in a place that even it said needed change. But things haven't improved in South Africa and thousands have died needlessly since those editorials in the spring. And now time is running out. Harvard's divestment wouldn't wreak economic or social havoc on that country, and would be nothing more than symbolic.

So what, I say now.

It's time for symbolism.

IF THE LAST six months have proven anything, it's that the South African government isn't partial to the process of change.

Some would say the same for Harvard, where the process of change appears to move with glacial speed. But here the ever-present University critics are mistaken. Fruitful change in the University is an ever-present fact.

And if it's slow in coming about, well, then it's understandable.

After all, as former Dean of the Faculty Henry Rosovsky once told us, we're here for four years, he's here for life and the institution is here forever.