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Faust Letter Leaves Divestment Advocates Unsatisfied

By Nikita Kansra, Crimson Staff Writer

Less than a week after University President Drew G. Faust released a letter reaffirming the University stance against divestment from fossil fuels, divestment advocates said they remain unsatisfied with Faust’s position and will continue their activism.

The activists—an assortment of students, faculty members, and alumni—have emphasized the moral value of divestment and questioned Faust’s claim that Harvard could address climate change by engaging with fossil fuel companies.

In her letter, which explained the University’s longtime position, Faust argued that divestment could potentially politicize the University’s $32.7 billion endowment, divert focus from Harvard’s other environmentally-oriented initiatives, and weaken Harvard’s investment returns without significantly impacting fossil fuel companies.

Responsible Investment at Harvard, a coalition of Harvard affiliates that played a role in the creation of Harvard’s social choice fund, addressed Faust’s letter in a statement posted to its website on Monday.

“Responsible investing requires clear standards, transparency, and accountability to stakeholders who include students, staff, alumni, and communities where Harvard’s investments operate,” the statement read. “If Harvard is making any effort to this end, it is falling short.”

The group refuted Faust’s argument that Harvard could influence the fossil fuel companies associated with the University’s endowment. Harvard has a “poor history” of engaging with companies and asset managers to mitigate risks, the statement said.

Harold N. Eyster ’16, a member of Divest Harvard, a pro-divestment campaign affiliated with Harvard Students for a Just and Stable Future, said he agreed.

“Harvard has tried [engagement], and it hasn’t worked,” he said, adding that the Corporation has not demonstrated an interest in actively working with the fossil fuel companies in which Harvard invests.

Eyster also said that while some of Faust’s arguments discussed the financial impact of divesting from fossil fuel companies, divestment primarily serves a moral goal, not a monetary one.

“There really is not a neutral position here,” he said.

According to Eyster, Divest Harvard, which has yet to release a full response to Faust’s letter, plans to articulate its argument in op-eds in both The Crimson and a “major news source” within the next week.

Bill E. McKibben ’82, an environmentalist and staunch alumni advocate of Harvard’s divestment, called Faust’s letter “entirely expected” given the University’s initial resistance to students who pushed for divestment from South Africa in the 1980s and, more broadly, what he called the “very conservative” nature of Harvard.

Like other divestment supporters, McKibben—a former Crimson president—said he viewed the letter as inspiration for further action.

“It’s time to start campaigning in earnest,” he said, calling for students, faculty members, and alumni to rally in support of divestment. Alumni, he said, could request that their donations be held in escrow.

Other members of the Harvard community involved in environmental issues praised Faust’s statement.

In an emailed statement, Harvard Kennedy School Robert N. Stavins said that he believed Faust made the right decision.

“Divestment would at best be a symbolic action only, without meritorious direct effects,” he said. “The problem is that symbolic actions often substitute for truly effective actions by fooling ourselves into thinking we are doing something meaningful about a problem when we are not.”

He argued that viewing divestment as a “moral crusade” would hinder society’s ability to tackle climate change and that instead, Harvard could best fight climate change through research, teaching, and outreach.

The reiteration of activists’ goals comes as a study conducted at the University of Oxford found that the contemporary fossil fuel divestment movement outstrips similar campaigns against tobacco, apartheid, and pornography in terms of scope and impact.

—Staff writer Nikita Kansra can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @NikitaKansra.

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