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Bacow Says He ‘Respects’ Right to Protest, But Holds Firm on Divestment Position

University President Lawrence S. Bacow speaks with a colleague in his office in Massachusetts Hall before an October interview with The Crimson.
University President Lawrence S. Bacow speaks with a colleague in his office in Massachusetts Hall before an October interview with The Crimson. By Kathryn S. Kuhar
By Alexandra A. Chaidez and Aidan F. Ryan, Crimson Staff Writers

Following a demonstration that interrupted the 136th iteration of The Game, University President Lawrence S. Bacow said in an interview last week that he “respects” the right to protest but opposes activists’ decision to disrupt the game.

Bacow’s comments come after years of protests by Divest Harvard, a student group calling on the University to divest from investments in fossil fuel companies. The November demonstration, however, was an escalation of its previous efforts.

Hundreds of protestors calling on both Harvard and Yale to divest their endowments from fossil fuels and Puerto Rican debt stormed the field during halftime at the Harvard-Yale football game. Fifty people, including 10 Harvard students and alumni and at least 19 Yale students and alumni, were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.

A Connecticut judge gave the arrested Harvard affiliates five hours of community service. They are also required to return to court on Jan. 27 and commit no additional offenses before their meeting.

“Look, I respect people who choose to express themselves. I respect their right to voice their opinion,” Bacow said. “I would have preferred if they had not disrupted the game. But that was not my decision.”

Bacow said Friday that he was not in contact with any of the Harvard affiliates arrested and charged at the Game.

With regards to divestment, Bacow said though he appreciates protestors’ passion, he still stands by the University’s position on this issue.

“We've had a number of protests about this. As I said, I respect the right of people to express themselves,” Bacow said. “I share their belief that action is required. We just happen to have an honest difference of opinion over what the appropriate action is.”

Bacow and former University presidents have long stood in opposition to divestment, urging that the endowment should not be used for political means.

In a September letter published in Harvard Magazine, Bacow wrote that he believes working with fossil fuel companies is a “sounder and more effective approach” for Harvard to take.

“We may differ on means,” Bacow wrote in the letter. “But I believe we seek the same ends—a decarbonized future in which life on Earth can flourish for ages to come.”

Divest Harvard declined to comment for this story.

At a Faculty of Arts and Sciences meeting Tuesday, several faculty members also spoke in favor of divestment. Senior Harvard Corporation Fellow William F. Lee ’72 attended the meeting and assured the faculty that he wanted to hear their opinions about divestment.

In Friday’s interview, Bacow said the Corporation — the University’s highest governing body — was “listening carefully” to the faculty’s sentiments but maintained that divestment was not the best option for the University.

“Our job is to listen broadly,” Bacow said. “But in the end, our job, as a corporation, as fiduciaries for the University, is to act in what we believe are the best long-term interests of the University.”

Most recently, Divest Harvard and others participated in a nationwide climate strike Friday, rallying alongside Harvard’s graduate student union picketers who are striking amid contract negotiations with the University.

—Staff writer Alexandra A. Chaidez can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @a_achaidez.

—Staff writer Aidan F. Ryan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @AidanRyanNH.

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