Faust Expresses Disappointment in Divest Harvard Video Confrontation

University President Drew G. Faust wrote in an email to Divest Harvard that she was disappointed in the way that the group, which calls for Harvard’s divestment from fossil fuel companies, presented a recent comment she made regarding the oil industry’s influence.

“After all of our frank discussions on this topic over the past couple of years, I had hoped you would carry on your campaign with a greater degree of civility and fairness,” Faust wrote in the email, after agreeing with the group that it is important for society to address climate change.

Last month, Alli J. Welton '15, the Student Outreach Co-Chair of Divest Harvard, approached Faust while on a walk in Harvard Yard to confront her about the University’s stance on fossil fuel divestment.

During the encounter, which was videotaped and posted on Vimeo, Welton asked who would take on the issue of climate change if Harvard would not, to which Faust responded that Harvard aids in the transition to renewable resources through academic discoveries.

In a moment that has since garnered attention beyond Harvard’s campus, Welton claimed that the fossil fuel industry prevents the implementation of these discoveries, after which Faust said, “That is not the case.” At this point, the version of the Divest Harvard video online at the time of Faust’s email ended.

"When I said 'that is not the case’ I was addressing the assertion that fossil fuel companies were somehow disrupting Harvard’s ability to implement programs of research into climate change and renewable energy,” Faust wrote in the email. “That is, as I said, not the case.”

Faust’s email reiterated the major themes of her letter that she wrote to the Harvard community in October 2013 on fossil fuel divestment. Specifically, her praise for the students’ passion for raising awareness of climate change, Harvard’s role as an academic institution in carrying out educational and research programs, and a “strong institutional commitment to sustainability” through recent initiatives appear in both the October letter and Monday’s email.

Chloe S. Maxmin ’15, Divest Harvard’s Co-Coordinator, said that the student organization will be posting the entire video of the encounter, along with Faust’s email, on its website.

In addition, Divest Harvard released a written statement responding to Faust’s email.

"The full video [of our conversation] with President Faust speaks for itself,” the statement read. “If President Faust wishes to clarify her statement, we invite her to join us in a public forum—which we have been requesting for months—to discuss her views on how the fossil fuel industry influences politics."

Maxmin said that Divest Harvard will hold a set of “teach-ins,” featuring a statement from climatologist Michael E. Mann, about the fossil fuel industry's influence outside of Faust's office in Massachusetts Hall Tuesday beginning at noon.

“We have invited President Faust, and we’ll have a chair waiting for her,” Maxmin said.

—Staff writer Amna H. Hashmi can be reached at amnahashmi@college.harvard.edu. Follow her on Twitter @amna_hashmi.

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