In his first public discussion about Harvard's financial ties to South Africa since the student rallies and demonstrations of last week, President Bok yesterday gave an interview on WHRB and responded to student criticisms of the Corporation's decision on handling those ties.
Bok said, "We've tried very hard to pay attention to student opinion," but that does "not mean we're necessarily going to agree with particular opinions."
In a report released Thursday, the Corporation rejected student demands to divest its holdings in banks lending money to the apartheid government, and rejected demands that Harvard support all shareholder resolutions calling on corporations to withdraw operations from South Africa.
The importance of student opinion depends on the issue, Bok said yesterday, adding "students are only one of a number of constituencies" concerned with Harvard's investment policies. Alumni and faculty, for example, have more stake in the management of the University's endowment, Bok said.
During the half-hour interview, Bok reiterated the position on divestiture outlined by the Corporation in its report. He said although it would cost the University a "considerable amount of money" to divest itself of holdings in corporations doing business in South Africa, the potential loss is not the only reason the Corporation is opposed to immediate divestiture.
Bok said there is no evidence that other universities that have sold stock in corporations doing business in South Africa have brought about any changes in those corporations' policies toward South Africa.
Bok said the Corporation decided that it could achieve more by shareholder pressure than by "a single dramatic act of divestiture."
In its report the Corporation also announced it would review the role of individual corporations in South Africa before deciding how to vote on shareholder resolutions demanding that the corporations withdraw from South Africa.
Some students have criticized the Corporation's plan as time-consuming, but Bok replied, "I don't see any reason why it should not be possible to make up our minds by the time the next batch of corporation resolutions has to be voted on one year from now."
Bok said South Africa is different from other countries with undemocratic, repressive regimes, and therefore singled out, because it is "virtually the only country where repression is carried out on racial lines."
Bok added that the systematic repression affects not only a few dissenters, but people involved in everyday activities.
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