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University President Drew G. Faust said she strongly disapproved of activist group Divest Harvard’s occupation of Massachusetts Hall last month, arguing that the group does not “have the right to stop University business.”
“I thought that it was unfortunate they had turned to these coercive tactics, which were very upsetting to the woman at the desk who was trying to stop them from getting in, were very disruptive of our work in the building that day, and I think signaled a movement away from the principles of exchange and legitimate free expression that are part of this campus and are part of what we believe in,” Faust said in an interview Friday.
Last month, more than 30 Divest Harvard members and supporters occupied the first floor of Mass. Hall—home to Faust’s and other top administrators' offices—and a subset of about 14 stayed for roughly 24 hours. The group is also planning a week long protest, dubbed “Harvard Heat Week,” in mid-April that aims to draw alumni supporters to campus.
Divest Harvard has ideologically sparred with Faust because its members believe the University can have an influence on popular opinion against the fossil fuel industry and its influence on Capitol Hill by divesting its endowment from fossil fuel companies.
Faust, speaking to The Crimson for the first time since the occupation, has routinely maintained—in public statements, in emails with Harvard’s faculty group for divestment, and on her recent trip to China—that she believes the University can best address climate change through its research initiatives, rather than divestment.
“I wish [Divest Harvard] would focus on accomplishing what we want to accomplish, which is have an effect on climate change, rather than on one particular instrument, which they seem focused on almost to the point of forgetting about what the outcome for such an action would be,” Faust said.
Following repeated requests from Harvard’s faculty group for divestment for an open forum on Harvard’s investment in fossil fuels, Faust will convene a panel of experts to discuss climate change on April 13. Charlie Rose, a talk show host and journalist, will moderate the panel, which will feature several Harvard affiliates, including Harvard Faculty for Divestment member and History of Science professor Naomi Oreskes.
Faust said she considers the panel an open forum and is still working out the logistics of the meeting with Rose, but hopes audience members can ask panelists questions. She clarified that the panel is not structured to allow attendees to ask her questions.
Harvard Faculty for Divestment has asked in open letters for an “open forum in which members of the Corporation, students, faculty, and alumni speak.” James M. Recht, one of the principal authors of Harvard Faculty for Divestment’s open letters, said last week that he did not consider Faust’s panel an open forum.
When asked about the possibility of an open forum that would include her and members of the Harvard Corporation—the University’s highest governing body—and allow Harvard affiliates to ask her questions about divestment, Faust said she does not think such an event would be valuable.
“I don't see that as a very useful kind of structure,” Faust said. “And I think we have had plenty of interchange. The views of the Corporation and the president are clear. I've answered questions on this.”
University spokesperson Jeff Neal attended The Crimson's interview with Faust.
—Staff writer Theodore R. Delwiche can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @trdelwic.
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