The Citibank Silence


To the Editors of the Crimson: I think it's important for people to understand exactly why Harvard didn't publicize its recent sale of $5 million in Citibank bonds.

Nearly three years ago hundreds of students through their dedicated work forced Harvard to adopt a policy on its South Africa-related investments. We argued at that time that Harvard should take advantage of its enormous prestige by taking a public stand against investments in and loans to South Africa, and that Harvard should widely publicize any actions it took so that other investors might follow suit.

While we did force Harvard to adopt a minimally responsible position opposing bank loans to the South African government, the administration never accepted the argument that Harvard had any influence in the outside world that would justify publicizing any divestiture that took place. This denial of Harvard's influence--an unusual one, considering its source--was in fact designed to avoid venturing onto what Harvard considers the slippery slope of social responsibility. The administration's real fear is not for Harvard's bonds but for its stocks.

For once Harvard admitted that public divestiture could influence other investors, it would have to consider selling many of its stocks--in companies like IBM, for example, which sold computers to the police, military, and passbook authorities. The administration argues that it can influence these companies by voting on shareholder resolutions--a ludicrous assertion when one considers that no such resolution has ever passed over management's objections. Few get even 5% of the votes. The influence of these resolutions is practically nonexistent. A stronger step would be to divest publicly, but Harvard wants desperately to avoid alienating corporate friends and to avoid allowing social responsibility to interfere significantly with hard-nosed investment decisions.

So the administration holds, onto stocks of corporations which are up to no good in South Africa, and even abstains on some of the shareholder resolutions it claims can accomplish so much. And it washes its hands of the tainted Citibank bonds on the sly--not because it hopes to influence Citibank management or other investors, but because supporting apartheid is immoral. Yes, it is immoral. But pretending that Harvard can do nothing about it--not even trying to do anything about it--is in my mind even worse. Who can seriously doubt that a letter from Derek Bok about Citibank loans to the South African government would be read by nearly every college president and institutional investor in the country, would get prominent play in this country's most influential newspapers, and so on? Where is the harm in trying?


Viewed in this light, ACSR Secretary Larry Stevens' assertion that the Citibank divestiture was kept secret to avoid a conflict of interest is truly laughable. It would be simple enough to avoid a conflict of interest for ACSR members by publicizing the sale only after it was completed. He knows this as well as anybody, and I feel rather sorry for him for being the one who has to spout the administration line on this. Not only Larry Stevens' dignity but the cause of "reasoned debate" which Derek Bok champions so loudly would be much better served if Harvard admitted the real reasons behind its fear of public divestiture. Peter Sacks '79-4

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