Two years ago, students were more interested in shareholder responsibility than in any other issue at Harvard. The University's holdings in the Gulf Oil Corp., which operates in the Portuguese colony of Angola, proved sufficiently controversial to provoke a takeover of Massachusetts Hall in the spring of 1972.
As a result of the Pan-African Liberation Committee's week-long occupation and other shareholder disputes, President Bok set up a two-tier shareholder responsibility organization that ended its second season this spring.
The first year of the student-faculty-alumni Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility, and the subcommittee of the Corporation that it reports to, had been a cautious one marked by strong student interest--an ad hoc student ACSR took votes on every major proxy resolution and conveyed its sentiments to the full ACSR.
But this year Harvard considered a whopping 45 shareholder resolutions, as opposed to last year's 16, and the student ACSR practically disappeared. The University tried to solve a burning issue by creating a bureaucracy to handle it, and sure enough, it quickly proceeded to become less burning.
But one issue came up this year that didn't fit into the streamlined pattern. In mid-November, a small grassroots community organization asked Harvard to help it oppose a power plant in Arkansas.
The request was bold but it was not completely out of the blue. The company planning the plant, Arkansas Power and Light, is a subsidiary of Middle South Utilities Inc., of which Harvard's $8 million worth of stock represents the largest single holding. Middle South had given Harvard trouble before; in the mid-sixties, students discovered that several of its officials were members of White Citizens' Councils in the South and protested Harvard's financial involvement.
And this was no ordinary power plant. It would be a 2800-megawatt coal-burning structure with four huge smokestacks, and would probably be the most polluting plant in the country. The group that approached Harvard, the Arkansas Community Organization for Reform Now (ACORN), contended that the plant would ruin the air and water around it and spoil nearby farmers' crops unless it were equipped with additional controls to stem its sulfur dioxide emissions.
ACORN is not a group of amateurs. Among people acquainted with the field, it is regarded as perhaps the best community organizing group in the country. ACORN played it smart--it sent a lobbyist, William L. Kitchen, to Cambridge for a few weeks to put on the pressure.
Kitchen did a good job, making it impossible for Harvard to ignore ACORN's request completely without looking callous. He organized petitions and letters and sent out information about the plant to everyone at Harvard who could possibly help ACORN. Students got interested in the issue, and several ecology and leftist groups urged Harvard to intervene. The matter eventually came into the hands of the ACSR.
The ACSR took its time. It first commissioned a detailed report from the Investor Responsibility Research Center on the plant, and then had several experts go over the report and AP&L's environmental impact statement. Finally, in late spring, the ACSR came out with a four-page statement on the plant that called on AP&L to "re-examine its plans with respect to the problem of sulfur dioxide and other emissions" and said the utility should consider installing the additional emission controls ACORN has been pushing for.
Last month the Corporation subcommittee sent the ACSR statement to Middle South Utilities and ACORN, thus taking its first--and probably its last for a while--stand on a shareholder issue that does not involve a proxy resolution.
The Arkansas Public Service Commission will begin holding licensing hearings on the plant in a few days, and ACORN will try to have the commission rule that AP&L must install the additional controls. It remains uncertain how much good Harvard's laborious wrangling with the issue will do in the end, since the Corporation did not send the ACSR statement to the Public Service Commission. ACORN is now trying to have the statement introduced as evidence, and if it fails the statement will go unread by the authorities.
Besides the AP&L statement, all the ACSR's specific actions on issues ranging from South Africa to equal employment to corporate political contributions went almost unnoticed. In the spring of 1972, for example, it was Harvard's abstention on a resolution calling on Gulf to report on its Angola operations that most directly prompted the Mass Hall takeover.
This year, Harvard opposed a similar resolution direct at Gulf and announced its vote routinely along with 25 others. It also abstained from a vote calling on Phillips Petroleum to remove its operations from another embattled Portuguese colony, Guinea-Bissau. It is a sign of the times that no one seemed to care.