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Bok: No Divestment On Overseer Agenda

Counters Remarks by Tutu, Whitehead

By Tara A. Nayak

Two days after South African Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu said he sensed enthusiasm on Harvard's Board of Overseers for reopening discussion about the University's divestment policy, President Derek C. Bok said the Board will not formally discuss the issue unless there is more drastic change in South Africa.

"We do not plan, to my knowledge, to discuss the question of divestment," Bok said in an interview yesterday.

Bok's statements contradict remarks made by both Tutu, who is a newly-elected member of the Board, and John C. Whitehead, who is the Board's president, after the regular overseers meeting held this Sunday. Both Tutu and Whitehead had suggested that discussion of Harvard's $139 million in South Africa-related investments, long the subject of student and alumni debate, might be resumed at the overseers' next meeting in April.

"My reading is that there is a far greater willingness on the part of those on the Board to consider...getting tougher than they have been, and they are saying we ought to put it back on the agenda," Tutu said at a Sunday press conference.

"If [Tutu] would like discussion, I am sure there will be discussion," Whitehead said. "And maybe by that time, there will be changes that cause Harvard's policy to change...the general idea is to watch and wait."

The statements by Tutu and White-head on Sunday had offered activists the first hope in more than a year that the alumni-elected Board of Over-seers, which votes on Harvard policy, might reconsider its stance that Harvard should not divest completely of South African stock.

But since Bok is an ex officio member of the Board, and has considerable influence with its members, his word could well be the last on the subject.

Bok, who in his two decades as president has seen Harvard continually struggle with activists over the issue of South African investments, said there was no reason to consider the policy further precisely because it has already been so extensively discussed.

Harvard's current policy of selective divestment--maintaining investments only in companies that are fair to South African Blacks--was, in fact, the product of prolonged overseers debate.

"I think [a revision of policy] would surely not happen," Bok said. "There is an existing policy, and I think there's going to be a question as to how soon one will want to review that policy since it's not a trivial matter. It's the product of a very lengthy and intensive review."

Tutu proposed Sunday that the overseers consider a new divestment policy, to make sure the white South African government follows through on promises to change its racist policies. But Bok said the changes thus far have not been dramatic enough to warrant a reexamination of divestment policy, and that the Board should not reopen discussion unless there is even more drastic reform.

And as for Tutu's suggestion that Harvard reinvest in South Africa after three months if the government does follow through on its promises, Bok said, "we're certainly not going to reinvest unless much more decisive steps are taken in terms of negotiated settlements in dismantling apartheid."

Bok did say he was impressed that Tutu attended the meeting only two days afterSouth African President F.W. De Klerk promised therelease of Nelson Mandela and the legalization ofanti-apartheid groups.

"Bishop Tutu...really made a magnificent effortto come over here for a meeting. At thatparticular time, I never thought he would be ableto do that very very difficult trip," Bok said."He came over...just for that meeting. And so wecertainly wanted to express our thanks for thateffort and also to have him reflect on what wasgoing on South Africa, which he did."

Peter H. Wood '64, who like Tutu was elected tothe Board on an independent, pro-divestment slate,agreed.

"He set a high standard for all the Boardmembers," said Wood. "The fact that he would behere in such an important week in South Africamakes me proud.

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