Ethereal Ethics


PRESIDENT BOK says he has though and hard about investment ethics. Two weeks ago. Bok again rejected stock divestiture as a "costly and ineffective way of lighting apartheid." and that conviction he wrote in a lengthy public statement was "arrived at after many hours of thought."

So when Stanley Hoffmann confronted Bok at last week's Faculty meeting with a question that cut to the heart of the divesture debate, the Dillon Professor of the Civilization of France had reason to expect an answer. "Are there any circumstances in any country." Hoffmann asked." where you or the Corporation would support divestiture and how different would these conditions have to be from the conditions in South Africa?" But Bok didn't answer. "It's a question," he said, "[that] I have to ponder"

Why? Well, if the past few months have shown anything, it is that the president's talk of ethical investing is so much win dow-dressing. His statements on divestiture in 1979 and again today set forth complex ethical standards for University holdings, as Bok drew moral lines that conveniently exculpated Harvard. But statements by Hugh Calkins '45, chairman of a key Corporation subcommittee, have indicated the real line Harvard invests to make money, period Ethical considerations are irrelevant.

No wonder the president took Hoffmann's query as a non sequitut. Bok and Harvard's financial managers simply aren't accustomed to grounding investment decisions in ethical standards, only to dressing them up afterwards in ethical mist.

The Harvard community should see Derek Bok's attempt last week to pass on a central ethical question as new evidence of the gaping chasm between Harvard investment myth and Harvard investment reality. Bok, in turn, should examine the ethics of cloaking amoral decisions in moral gorses. And everyone should be asking Harvard tough questions, like Hoffmann's.