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Faust Will Convene Climate Change Panel in April

University President Drew G. Faust discussed her role in several hot-button campus issues in her final sit-down interview of 2014 with The Crimson.
University President Drew G. Faust discussed her role in several hot-button campus issues in her final sit-down interview of 2014 with The Crimson.
By Meg P. Bernhard and Theodore R. Delwiche, Crimson Staff Writers

University President Drew G. Faust will convene a panel about climate change on April 13, following several requests on behalf of a faculty group calling for an open forum about Harvard’s investment in fossil fuel companies.

The panel will be moderated by talk show host and journalist Charlie Rose, who has interviewed Faust on television in the past. The roster of panelists is scheduled to include Harvard science and public policy professors as well as experts from outside the University.

University President Drew G. Faust, pictured in 2014.
University President Drew G. Faust, pictured in 2014. By Robert F Worley

Faust’s announcement comes after several efforts on behalf of Harvard Faculty for Divestment—a group of 238 faculty from across the University who have signed an open letter urging Faust to withdraw its investments in fossil fuel companies— to schedule an open forum to discuss the University’s stance on divestment. In the past year, members of the Harvard Faculty for Divestment have repeatedly asked for an “open forum in which members of the Corporation, students, faculty, and alumni speak.”

Student activist group Divest Harvard—founded in 2012—has also repeatedly asked for an open meeting with Faust to discuss the issue.

The climate panel is scheduled to fall on the first day of a week-long sit in organized by Divest Harvard and University alumni called “Harvard Heat Week,” in which protestors will demand that the University divest from the fossil fuel industry. History of Science professor Naomi Oreskes, a member of Harvard Faculty for Divestment, is scheduled to speak on the panel.

Harvard Faculty for Divestment, for its part, has scheduled what they call a “Faculty Forum on Divestment” for April 17, the same week as Faust’s forum, according to the group’s website.

James G. Anderson, a member of Harvard Faculty for Divestment, praised Faust’s efforts to create what he called a “spectacular” panel.

“She’s done a brilliant job of finding contributors for the panel,” Anderson said. “It’s a very important step forward.”

However, Anderson said he still would like to see a forum focused specifically on the University's stance on divestment.

For his part, Medical School assistant professor James M. Recht, one of the four principal authors of Harvard Faculty for Divestment’s open letter urging divestment, said Faust’s climate forum was not enough.

“We have asked the University to provide an open forum on fossil fuel divestment, so they certainly haven't done that,” Recht said, noting that divestment is not explicitly mentioned as a topic for the panel. He added, however, that Oreskes’s participation in the panel is “encouraging.”

Divest Harvard founder Chloe S. Maxmin ’15 said that although “important voices” will contribute to the panel, the forum is not the open discussion about fossil fuel divestment that Divest Harvard has requested in the past.

“The administration has still rejected having open dialogue about fossil fuel divestment,” Maxmin said, adding that she hopes divestment will be discussed in some capacity at the event.

Environmental activist William E. McKibben '82, a former Crimson president, was skeptical of Faust's forum.

"I think it's appropriate that they've bought in one of the best talk show hosts in America, because what Harvard likes to do about this problem," McKibben wrote in an email. "But it's time that they acted as well, and joined folks like, say, the Rockefeller family in divesting from fossil fuels. After a certain point, talk begins to curdle."

Faust recently returned from a trip to China, where she met with Chinese President Xi Jinping to discuss efforts to combat climate change and spoke at Beijing’s Tsinghua University about research and universities’ role in fighting climate change.

—Staff writer Meg P. Bernhard can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @meg_bernhard.

—Staff writer Theodore R. Delwiche can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @trdelwic.

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