Roundtable: Was President Faust Wrong to Reject Divestment?

Faust Provides Weak Arguments and Makes the Wrong Choice

President Faust’s statement opposing divestment was disappointing. This statement was the only response to a request from Divest Harvard asking her to participate in a public forum about divestment. She used this statement as a way of sidestepping the actual request, and in doing so passed up the opportunity to engage in a productive discussion about divestment and climate change.

I am only going to address a few of the many problematic elements in her statement. President Faust seems to misunderstand the purpose of divestment. Its aim is not to affect stock prices or damage the fossil fuel industry financially. Rather, it seeks to make a statement about the immorality of profiting off an industry whose business model endangers our future. The ultimate aim is to loosen the corrupting influence that the fossil fuel industry has over our political system, which currently prevents meaningful climate legislation.

Faust’s claim that Harvard wishes to remain politically neutral is weak: It seems to imply that investments are not inherently political statements. In choosing to remain invested in these companies, Faust is choosing to continue to support and side with them over the concerns of a group of her students.


Faust makes the argument that divestment is hypocritical because our society is reliant on fossil fuels. Currently, there are very few alternatives to using fossil fuels on a daily basis. The purpose of divestment is to create space for political action and reverse this reliance. Fossil fuel companies will not change their business model willingly. Without political action, the chance of preventing catastrophic damage to our planet is very slim.

Ultimately, Faust’s statement fails to engage with an issue that she claims to recognize as “one of the world’s most consequential challenges.”

Pennilynn Stahl ‘15 is an English concentrator living in Mather House. She is a member of Divest Harvard.

Defending Academic Inquiry

President Faust’s statement on the divestment movement is a welcome reassurance for the students, employees, and alumni of Harvard who had feared open politicization of the endowment. Pro-divestment activists have attacked her statement, but President Faust’s remarks uphold the endowment’s purpose as a means to further academic knowledge, not to pursue an agenda. Pursuing divestment would directly interfere with the academic inquiry of many students and faculty on campus.

Some divestment activists have painted any opposition as directly supporting a perceived aim of the energy sector to pollute as much as possible. This “catastrophist” view asserts that humanity will suffer doomsday in the near future, unless dependence on fossil fuels is eliminated now.  If Harvard were to divest from non-renewable energy, then the university would essentially endorse this position. There exists a wide range of theories between the extremes of climate change denial and catastrophism, but a divestment program would endorse the catastrophist position as the only legitimate one. After divestment, those at Harvard working on more gradualist theories of climate change would find themselves opposing the official position of the university. President Faust’s statement, however, acknowledges climate change as important and accepts investigation into the threats of climate change.

Additionally, the divestment position would ostracize any students and faculty who are interested in working on research regarding non-renewable resources. Engineers or EPS concentrators interested in the petroleum industry should not endure the opprobrium of the university’s official rejection of the legitimacy of their work. Overall, Harvard’s strength in the sciences would be damaged by cutting off such a large field of research and work. President Faust was right to have rejected divestment. Such a policy would declare that a wide area of academic inquiry in engineering and atmospheric sciences is illegitimate in Harvard’s eyes.

Samuel L. Coffin’14 is a history concentrator in Mather House.


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