Seven members of the Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility (ACSR), three nuclear experts, and an audience of about 50 people last night engaged in a wide ranging discussion on Harvard's investments in the nuclear weapons industry.
The "open forum" at the Science Center-organized by the Institute of Politics-was designed specifically to examine whether Harvard should divest from companies that produce or help produce nuclear arms.
But speakers last night addressed a variety of issues of connected to the nuclear question, ranging from how much impact firms have on the arms race to whether professors at Harvard have helped promote the Cold war to the need for a nuclear arms freeze.
Several student members of the ACSR-which advises the Corporation on its ethical responsibilities as a stockholder-said after the forum that while the discussion was rather unfocused, it did serve as a good first step in helping Harvard begin to shape a nuclear weapons policy.
"This is going to be a preface to another open meeting," said Frederick T. Smith, the Law School representative to the ACSR, referring to a meeting scheduled for the a fall, at which the committee will formally invite community opinion on the nuclear topic, among other issues.
The issue of Harvard investments in nuclear-weapons producing firms has come alive this spring with the increased national attention to nuclear arms questions. Both the ACSR and the Corporation have appeared tentative in dealing with nuclear-related shareholder resolutions addressed to companies in the Harvard stock portfolio.
Corporation members have chosen to have the University abstain on several resolutions-some supported by the advisory committee-limiting firms' work with nuclear weapons. The Corporation says it needs more time to consider abandoning past opposition to similar proposals.
"We try to be pretty consistent from year to year," College Treasurer George Putnam '49 said this week. "We have to have a damned good reason to change."
Last night's discussion revealed the extremely complicated questions involved with investments in nuclear weapons and suggested the potential difficulty the Corporation and the ACSR will have in reaching a concession on the topic.
George M. Dallas '56, one of four alumni on the 12-member ACSR, said calling for divestiture from all companies involved in nuclear weapons may be an "oversimplification." Many companies, some of whom are only tangentially involved with the process comprise the sprawling weapons industry, he added.
A former ACSR member raised another potential problem with any nuclear weapons activism when he asked, "Is it fair to hold companies responsible for undertaking the production" of weapons approved by Congress asked Kenneth Propp, a third-year law student and one of the experts appearing last night.
Propp concluded that companies doing nuclear related work do shoulder some blame for the arms race, partly because of what he termed their "energetic lobbying" for weapons contracts.
But a spokesmen for the Democratic Club, Christina A. Spaulding '83 said that primary blame for the present nuclear problem lies with the Reagan Administration Firms involved with nuclear weapons therefore should not be singled out through Harvard divestiture, she added.
Still another part of last night's debate focused on the possible difference between weapons designed for defensive (deterrence) reasons and those which give the United States a "first-strike" capability. Perhaps drawing a line between "stabilizing" and "destabilizing" weapons is possible from Harvard's investment point of view, some speakers speculated