University leaders will sit down with student advocates of fossil fuel divestment and explore the possibility of creating a social choice fund, senior University officials told The Crimson this week.
“The Corporation has an obligation to listen to students, to faculty, to other members of the community because it educates our decisions, but in a community like Harvard you’re never going to have unanimity on anything,” said William F. Lee ’72, a member of the Harvard Corporation, the University’s highest governing body.
Next semester, members of the Corporation’s Committee on Shareholder Responsibility will meet with students who have advocated over the course of the fall for the University to divest its more than $30 billion endowment from fossil fuels.
When the issue was offered as a referendum during Undergraduate Council elections last month, 72 percent of undergraduates who voted supported divestment.
Alli J. Welton ’15, a board member of Divest Harvard, Harvard’s chapter of Students for a Just and Stable Future, said she was optimistic about what could emerge from the meeting.
“We’ve been working really, really hard this semester, trying to open up a dialogue with the administration,” said Welton. “We think our case is reasonable enough that we can present it to them and there might be some next steps taken.”
Although the University will meet with student representatives, University President Drew G. Faust said it was “unlikely” that Harvard would change its investment strategy as a result of the conversation.
“My argument would be that our most effective impact on climate change is not going to come through any kind of divestment activity,” Faust said. “It’s going to come through what we do with our teaching, our research, the people...we support, the students who may be the heads of the EPA or all kinds of organizations.”
In addition, Corporation members said the University is entertaining the creation of a social choice fund—a fund to which alumni could donate that would be invested with an eye towards Socially Responsible Investment. SRI encourages the incorporation of environmental, social, and governance concerns into the evaluation of investments.
“The desire to see a social choice fund at Harvard is a topic that began coming up with increasing frequency in my conversations with students and alumni last spring, and it led me to suggest to the Corporation that we explore the possibility of creating such a fund,” said Faust in a statement. “We are in the process of examining how such funds are managed at other institutions to learn more about best practices and to determine whether a similar approach makes sense for Harvard.”
Jen Q. Y. Zhu ’14, the newly elected UC vice president, said she believes students should play a role in discussions with administrators.
“Especially at Harvard, on Harvard’s campus, there are a lot of students who really want to make a difference,” said Zhu, who is also an inactive Crimson photo editor. “If it’s engaging in huge issues like divestment, I think there’s absolutely no reason why students should not be engaging in these issues.”
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