President Bok yesterday issued a strong statement against the Endowment for Divestiture, an alternative to the senior Class Gift established this spring to protest Harvard's stock holdings in businesses with ties to South Africa. Bok stated that alumni and other friends should support universities "in a positive way that depends upon persuasion, not try to coerce them in a negative way that depends upon threats."
The three page statement, which was released late yesterday afternoon and appears in today's Gazette, added that the alternate fund is "not a healthy way of resolving differences in the Harvard family," and that its organizers are "shortsighted" in not seeing that other lobbyists could use similar tactics to try to influence University policy by giving money with strings attached.
The endowment has already collected pledges of $7,000 from more than 430 seniors. Paul V. Holtzman '83, an organizer of the drive, said yesterday. Representatives of the Endowment for Divestiture will begin soliciting alumni contributions to the fund today, Holtzman added.
The money will be held in escrow until Harvard divests from companies that operate in South Africa. It divestiture does not take place within 20 years, the money will go to a Harvard related charity. Endowment organizers said yesterday that Bok made the statement because he has been surprised by the degree of senior and alumni interest in the fund. The announcement comes only a month after he released a comprehensive open letter on the University's reasons for opposing divestiture that did not mention the endowment.
Michael Blumenfield, associate vice president for public affairs, who released the statement, declined to comment on whether Bok's statement had been prompted by an unexpectedly large interest in the fund Bok could not be reached for comment last night.
Jeffrey W. Knopf '83, another endowment organizer, also criticized Bok for waiting until the late afternoon of the day before Commencement to release his attack on the fund. Noting that his group will have little time to respond. Knopf called the statement "basically an attempt to get the last word while the alumni are here."
Bok said in the statement that gifts like the endowment leave the University vulnerable to pressure from "many individuals or groups seeking to impose a wide variety of policies on the institution."
He added that the University has consistently resisted similar efforts in the past to the donations to Harvard to changes in University policy, but that even today Harvard occasionally has potential donors to the Harvard Campaign who want to link their gifts to policy matters.
"Ironically, most of these incidents have involved efforts to impose points of view of a highly conservative with which the sponsors of the Endowment for Divestiture would presumably disagree," the statement added.
Masilo Mabeta, a Black South African student in Government and a member of the Harvard African students Association, yesterday criticized Bok for stating the issue primarily in institutional terms, of how the fund will affect the University.
"The endowment is a call to individual graduates to take a moral stand, an appeal to the consciences of individual students," added Mabets, a teaching fellow in Moral Reasoning 28 "Ethics in International Relations."
Funmi Arewa '85, president of the Harvard African Students Organization, said yesterday that Bok's statement is particularly insensitive because it is being released on the day when three members of the African National congress are scheduled to be executed in South Africa, despite a world outcry and a special appeal to the U.S. to intervene from the Anti-Apartheid Unit of the United Nations.
"While at Harvard we see Bok speaking about how divestiture is incorrect, in South Africa we are in the executions of the ANC Three what the evil is of the system," she added.
Endowment planners said yesterday they expect to collect substantially more money for Commencement, when the younger fifth, 10th, 15th, and 20th reunion classes arrive. Organizers said those alumni are especially likely to give in large numbers when they arrive, adding that the endowment has many organizers in those classes.
Holtzman added that while the regular Class Gift has collected pledges of about $23,000, it is likely that many people pledged money before they heard about he endowment and will not honor those pledges, having given to the alternate fund instead. "I think that their figure will drop, while ours will continue to rise," he added