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At its meeting earlier this month, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences considered a proposal calling on the Harvard Corporation to direct Harvard Management Company to divest from fossil fuels. It was the first time Harvard Corporation Senior Fellow William F. Lee ’72 attended a faculty meeting in his 44 years at the University.
But this was not the most unusual part of the meeting. University President Lawrence S. Bacow asked a student protesting the decision to deny Romance Languages and Literatures associate professor Lorgia García Peña tenure to move so as not to obstruct faculty members’ view. When the student refused to do so, Bacow asked for the faculty’s support in removing the student, but several faculty voiced objections, and the student remained.
First, we deeply appreciate the time that faculty members took to debate the proposed divestment motion. We take the mere fact of the proposal debate and Lee’s unprecedented attendance as a sign of progress: more higher-ranking bodies in this University are giving the notion of divestment serious thought. Clearly, the faculty has had serious conversations regarding the efficacy, symbolism, and impact of divestment.
In light of recent protests and national coverage, it is especially important that the University consider why the issue of divestment has risen to such prominence over the past few years, and how it has interacted with student activists.
In that vein, we’d like to speak directly to Harvard Magazine’s coverage of the protester who stood in on the meeting. After describing exchanges between Bacow and the student, who refused to move or give their name, the magazine, which is editorially independent of the University, wrote, “In contrast, the discussion on divestment was completely civil, and on a high intellectual plane.” This comment in the article is blatantly condescending. The article, through this statement, seems to claim that unlike the faculty present for the discussion, protesters are uncivil and anti-intellectual. We believe that this language reflects broader attitudes of condescension toward student protesters and a misunderstanding of the motives behind protest.
It is important for all of us to understand that protest of this intensity that comes only after a prolonged period of feeling disempowered and disregarded. For the Harvard Magazine article to treat this protest as immature and to report it with a condescending tone is inappropriate. Such an attitude fails to contextualize the role the University has played and continues to play in perpetuating the conditions that led to students expressing their opinions in this manner.
We are encouraged by the time and thought the faculty have put into discussing the proposal to call on the University to divest, and we hope that their efforts will be met with equally thoughtful conversation by members of the Corporation. We hope that going forward, the efforts of protesters will be met first with consideration rather than condescension.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.
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