The Advisory Committe on Shareholder Responsibility wound up its inaugural season this week with a call for abstention on the issue that brought it into existence--Harvard investment in the Portuguese colony of Angola.
The ACSR asked Harvard to abstain from voting its Exxon stock on a shareholder resolution to have the company set up a study committee on the implications of its proposed oil exploration off the coast of Angola.
Angolan revolutionaries, American activists and the black students who seized Massachusetts Hall last April have claimed that American companies with Angolan investments help Portugal in its war against Angola's two independence movements.
The ACSR asked Harvard to write Exxon's management urging a "re-examination" of the proposed investment in light of these claims, but a majority of the group felt that the ultimate responsibility should be management's, Stanley S. Surrey, Smith Professor of Law and the ACSR's chairman, said Wednesday.
"A lot of people on the committee are against imperialism but didn't think supporting the resolution was the right way to show it," Martin J. Auerbach '73, one of two undergraduates on the 15-member student-faculty-alumni committee, explained.
The Angola recommendation-- along with several other recommendations on resolutions directed at Exxon, General Motors and Xerox-- brought to an end the first year of the ACSR, which President Bok set up last October along with a three-man Corporation subcommittee to make the final decisions on Harvard's responsibility as a shareholder.
The committee was embroiled in debate from the start. Shareholder controversy had moved out of the Financial Report and into the streets with the Mass Hall occupation, and skeptics predicted that the new ACSR would be powerless and not very responsive to activist or student demands.
Neither prediction, as it turned out, seems altogether justified. Although the Corporation subcommittee abstained on a number of resolutions the ACSR endorsed, it didn't vote against any of them. And in the course of the Spring Harvard came out for disclosure of corporate activity in South Africa; withdrawal from Namibia, which South Africa rules illegally; and disclosure of political contributions by firms whose "records indicate" that the gifts are substantial.
On the other hand, Harvard opposed or abstained on resolutions for disclosure of military contracting, corporate lobbying and, in some cases--and in opposition to the ACSR's stand--corporate political contributions.
"We never disregard ACSR recommendations," Hugh Calkins '45, chairman of the Corporation subcommittee, said last week. "We just sometimes disagree."
"On the whole the two results have not been very divergent," Surrey said Wednesday. "I think considering it's the first year for both of us, things went well. I think the ACSR itself worked very well--there were differences among individuals, but no deep ideological differences ever developed."
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