Last-Minute Change to Panel on Harvard Investments Sparks Controversy

In reaction to administrative concern, the Undergraduate Council rescinded its invitation last week to former Harvard lecturer Joshua Humphreys­ to participate on a panel on Harvard’s investment policies, a snub that Humphreys and a student interest group call an affront to free speech but that a University spokesperson pinned on poor communication on the part of the UC.

Humphreys and the student movement Responsible Investment at Harvard said that the UC, which organized the town hall on Thursday, took back its invite because representatives of the Harvard Management Company, which oversees the University’s endowment, refused to appear on a panel with Humphreys.

On Friday, a University spokesperson said instead that HMC asked the UC to reschedule the panel when it learned that the UC’s planned panel had different speakers than the original list that HMC had vetted. Rather than postponing the event, the UC crossed Humphreys off the slate.

Humphreys, a senior fellow at the Tellus Institute, a nonprofit policy organization, said that UC President Danny P. Bicknell ’13 told him that HMC’s participation hinged on changing the makeup of the panel.

“I have to admit that I’ve never received such professional discourtesy in my career, to be removed from a panel on the day of an event,” Humphreys wrote in an email to Bicknell. “This is censure of the highest order; it’s a violation of any notion of free speech and academic freedom, to say nothing of basic civility.”

A Council representative, who wished to remain anonymous to preserve relations with the administration, said that a University administrator told the UC specifically that the University was “uncomfortable” with an article Humphreys had published.

The event, billed as a forum for discussion about Harvard’s endowment, brought together experts on university investments and sustainable investment practices.

Responsible Investment at Harvard, which co-hosted the event, declined to comment on Friday on the rescinded invitation. Close to midnight on Sunday, the group released a statement alleging that HMC refused “to send representatives to speak on a panel alongside Dr. Humphreys.”

“We are highly disappointed by the HMC’s decision to retract our invitation to Dr. Joshua Humphreys—a preeminent scholar on university endowment ethics and a former Harvard lecturer—after he was invited by RI@Harvard, confirmed by the UC, and widely publicized as a confirmed participant,” the group wrote in an email to The Crimson, the UC president and vice president, and University administrators.

The group condemned “HMC’s decision to stifle free speech” and called for another panel later in the year. The statement was later posted on the organization’s website.

University spokespeople could not be reached for comment early on Monday.

The panel did include voices critical of HMC. Robert Zevin, founder of Zevin Asset Management and one of the four panelists who participated, said the University should consider “integration of environmental, social, and governance factors” when making investment decisions.

The other panelists were Law School professor Allen Ferrell, HMC board member Robert Kaplan, and Business School professor Rakesh Khurana.

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

—Staff writer Hana N. Rouse can be reached at hrouse@college.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Justin C. Worland can be reached at jworland@college.harvard.edu.

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