UPDATED: May 9, 2014, at 6:00 a.m.
University President Drew G. Faust said Wednesday that she will work with faculty members to arrange for a “thoughtful exchange” on climate change next fall but that she does not plan to hold the open meeting with the Corporation and members of the activist group Divest Harvard, for which members of the latter group have publicly agitated in recent weeks.
Faust said in a sit-down interview Wednesday that she plans to engage faculty members to determine “ways in which we can have really substantive, thoughtful exchange on these issues next year.”
In demanding an open meeting, she said, Divest Harvard is capitalizing on “a chance to draw attention to itself rather than a discourse and an interchange on substantive issues.”
Faust’s assertion came even as roughly 120 faculty members in support of the movement issued a letter on Monday calling for an “open forum in which members of the Corporation, students, faculty, and alumni speak” about divestment.
The timing of the faculty letter was pegged to the arrest of Divest Harvard member Brett A. Roche ’15, who was one of several of the group’s members blockading entrances to Mass. Hall last Wednesday and Thursday as part of an effort to secure an open meeting with the Corporation.
“An open forum should be held, not because students demand it at a demonstration...but because an open forum should have been held long prior to any demonstration,” the faculty members wrote.
They also wrote that Roche’s arrest “echoed the arrest of students protesting civil rights violations in the 1960s, of Henry David Thoreau protesting the Mexican War and slavery.”
Harvard did not press charges against Roche.
On Tuesday, a day after receiving the second letter from faculty members, Faust expressed disagreement. She told members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at their monthly meeting that while the University is committed to the principle of free speech, Roche’s actions did not qualify as “civil discourse.”
The arrest and community reaction to it are just the latest point of tension in an ongoing back and forth regarding fossil fuel divestment.
Harvard Faculty for Divestment, as the group of faculty members calls itself, issued its first open letter in late April, urging Faust and the Corporation to divest as soon as possible, despite Faust’s previous statements that the University would not do so.
Faust responded to that letter the same day, saying that she respected the perspectives of Harvard’s faculty members, but that the University would not divest and that it should, instead, focus on how its “programs of research and education can best contribute to accelerating the transition to renewable sources of energy.”
On Tuesday, Faust told Faculty members that she is “more than willing to hear the views of everyone in our community about how Harvard can most effectively contribute to a sustainable future.” She noted that she has previously met with divestment proponents on at least seven occasions.
In their Monday letter, however, faculty members wrote that the Harvard Corporation—of which Faust is ex officio chair—has “to date stood behind closed doors and issued statements, often in a dismissive tone” with regard to divestment.
Harvard’s debate over divestment has attracted increased attention this week in the wake of Stanford University’s announcement that it will divest from coal companies.
—Staff writers Matthew Q. Clarida and Amna H. Hashmi contributed to the reporting of this article.
—Staff writer Steven R. Watros can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SteveWatros.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: May 9, 2014
An earlier version of this article and its headline incorrectly stated the subject of the conversation with faculty proposed by University President Drew G. Faust. In fact, Faust said she will work with Faculty members to develop a "thoughtful exchange" on climate change, not divestment, next fall.