A Board of Overseers vote on the University's investment policies would be an important step towards expanding the powers of the Board, but probably would not have an effect on Harvard policy towards South African investments, pro-divestment activists said yesterday.
The 30-member Board, which is one of Harvard's two governing bodies, last weekend discussed divesting form the University's South Africa-linked investments for two hours and may vote on the issue this winter.
The seven-member Harvard Corporation is responsible for the University's investment policy, and a vote by the Overseers would mark the Board's first unsolicited advice to the Corporation in recent memory.
Divestment activists praised the Board's decision to consider the issue of divestment as a positive step towards makingthe University more responsive to students andalumni.
"They've never voted on an issue regarding theUniversity," said Jonathan Martin '88, who wasrecently elected co-chairman of the Endowment forDivestiture. "I wonder what would happen if [avote in favor of divestment] did pass. It willprovoke a challenge to the Corporation which hasnever been challenged before."
"I think that it's very positive that theydiscussed [divestment] for two hours," saidDorothee E. Benz '87, president of Alumni AgainstApartheid. "I'm glad to see they're not avoidingthe issue on the guise that it would becontroversial."
"They are finding ways to influence theCorporation who basically don't have anyaccountability to the community at all," said KimB. Ladin '87-'88, member of Southern AfricaSolidarity Committee.
But divestment activist Robert Weissman '88-'89said he did not think a vote by the Overseerswould have much effect, unless they actively pressthe Corporation to divest."If they vote on it[divestment] I don't think it would be more than asmall step, because the vote takes place in avacuum," he said. But, he added, "If the Boardwere to vote and then vociferously advocate theposition," then the Corporation might heed theBoard's advice.
Students who oppose complete divestment playeddown the importance of the vote. Caleb E. Nelson'88, editor-in-chief of the Salient, agreed thatthe Board's vote probably would not have muchimpact. "The vote will be non-binding. I don'tthink it's a very big deal," he said.
And Kris W. Kobach '88, president of theRepublican's Club, said "I'm not sure whether theBoard should become that politically active orgive unsolicted advice.