Harvard Professors Discuss University Investments

Harvard professors discussed the challenges of maximizing returns on the University’s investments while simultaneously integrating environmental, social, and governance considerations at a panel hosted by the Undergraduate Council yesterday.

Panelists, including Harvard Business School Professor Rakesh Khurana and founder of Zevin Asset Management, Robert Zevin, spoke on the tension between long-term returns on investments and social responsibility.

“There is a potential problem in assuming that what is good for Harvard is what is good for the whole world,” Khurana said.

Speakers said that while the Harvard Management Company, which oversees Harvard’s endowment, aims to consider these environmental, social, and governance factors across all asset classes, it is still under the University’s mandate to ensure that investments are sustainable over a long period of time.

“We are also responsible for the following generations,” said Robert Kaplan, acting president and chief executive officer of the Harvard Management Company from 2007 to 2008. “Through Harvard’s endowment, we want to make sure that future students who need financial aid and future professors who need support for ground-breaking research also have the capacity to continue making a difference.”

Delara Z. Alameddine ’14, who spearheaded the event as a UC Dunster House representative, said that the purpose of the event was to bring an open forum of discussion where students could voice their concerns, particularly current seniors who are passionate about the issue.

In response to questions about the Fair Harvard Fund, which aims to give alumni the chance to specify how they want their donations spent, Kaplan said that the decision to integrate the fund into the Harvard Management Company’s portfolio was out of their hands.

“Unfortunately, this is not a decision for the Harvard Management Company, but a decision for the University,” said Kaplan. “But if they choose to accept it, we will figure out a way to do it and do it successfully.”

Evelyn D. Chow ’12, a member of the coalition Responsible Investment at Harvard said she understood that some of the speakers were constrained by the positions they held, but felt that some questions were not fully answered.

“[The speakers] did not address my question about moving beyond a risk management framework towards the integration of environmental, social, and governance factors,” said Chow. “We need a concrete system through which the Harvard Management Company will actually display that they are taking these factors into consideration.”

—Staff writer Michelle Denise L. Ferreol can be reached at mferreol@college.harvard.edu.

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