A week after about 2,600 undergraduates voted in support of a referendum calling for Harvard to divest its $30.7 billion endowment from the fossil fuel industry, a Harvard spokesperson said on Wednesday that the University has no plans to adjust its investment portfolio in response to the student plebiscite.
“Harvard is not considering divesting from companies related to fossil fuels,” Harvard Director of News and Media Relations Kevin Galvin wrote in an email to The Crimson.
The divestment referendum, which was approved along with two other student-initiated ballot questions in this month’s Undergraduate Council presidential election, earned 72 percent of the student vote.
Although the three successful referenda will now be adopted as the official position of the UC, they have no power to directly influence University policy. And with the divestment question in particular, administrators have given little indication that they are looking to change course.
In May, Jane L. Mendillo—president and CEO of the Harvard Management Company, which oversees University investments—said in a statement that Harvard already has a system in place to ensure that its investments are financially and socially sound.
“Our due diligence process includes critical evaluation of issues related to environment, labor practices and corporate governance,” Mendillo said. “Investments that fall short in any of these areas are unlikely to generate the strong long-term returns we require.”
And at an open forum hosted by the UC and Harvard Graduate Council in October, University President Drew G. Faust reiterated that the Harvard Management Company, which oversees University investments, is principally committed to generating funds to support education and research.
“That is its sustaining goal, and it devotes itself to that, not to using the investments to advance particular agendas of one sort or another,” Faust said.
Still, referendum organizers say they hope to use the election results as a platform to convince administrators to comply with their demands.
Alli J. Welton ’15—a board member of Divest Harvard, Harvard’s chapter of Students for a Just and Stable Future, which sponsored the divestment question—said that thus far, she and other members of the group have been repeatedly denied in their efforts to schedule a formal meeting with Faust to discuss the issue.
However, Galvin wrote that Faust “always appreciates hearing from students about their viewpoints, and she has addressed this issue with students on several occasions,” citing Faust’s student office hours and her appearance last month at the UC- and Harvard Graduate Council-sponsored open forum.
But Welton said that although she and other members of her group have made use of both of these options, they are not satisfied with this limited access. Welton said she will try again on Monday to schedule an official meeting with Faust, in the hope that the ballot question’s wide margin of victory will make Faust more amenable to meeting with her group.
Deidre Nelms, a student at Amherst College who is also advocating for divestment from fossil fuel companies as president of the Green Amherst Project, said she was disappointed to hear that Faust had not yet granted a formal meeting to organizers at Harvard.
“At Amherst College, our Board of Trustees and our president [have] met with us. They have been very willing to speak with students,” Nelms said. “It seems like Harvard should be equally willing to at least negotiate with students.”
Welton that said she believes that if she and other Divest Harvard leaders get that opportunity, they will be able to make a convincing case that Harvard should withdraw its investments in fossil fuel companies.
Climate change resulting in part from the burning of fossil fuels, Welton said, is “clearly as extreme, if not more extreme” than the issues that have prompted divestment at Harvard in the past—apartheid South Africa in 1986, tobacco in 1990, and genocide in Darfur in 2005.
And, Welton said, the stakes are too high for Divest Harvard members to be satisfied with the alternative.
“[President Faust is] going to have to change her mind, because we’re not changing ours,” Welton said. “Climate change is a matter of life or death for millions and millions of people. We’re going to do whatever we can to change her mind over the weekend or the next couple of years.”