UPDATED: April 24, 2019 at 7:28 a.m.
University President Lawrence S. Bacow disclosed that Harvard’s total financial holdings in companies tied to the prison industry amount to roughly $18,000, according to two members of the Harvard Prison Divestment Campaign and a press release issued Thursday.
HPDC members and Divinity School students Megan B. Lee and Joseph M. Pinto met with Bacow during his official office hours last week. In addition to divulging Harvard’s $18,000 investments, Bacow also said the University does not have direct holdings in businesses that operate private prisons, per the release.
University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain declined to comment on this figure and for this story.
Bacow’s disclosure of Harvard’s holdings marks a shift in his rhetoric surrounding divestment. In line with past University Presidents, Bacow has thus far never provided details about individual aspects of the school’s endowment portfolio. Harvard’s administrators have rarely if ever provided specific insights into the University’s nearly $40 billion endowment holdings.
Lee said Bacow “refused” to provide evidence backing up the figure he presented at the meeting.
“We went to his office hours to meet him where he’s at this point and to see if we can continue the conversation that seems to have started,” Lee said. “And it seems like we cannot actually start that conversation or continue it.”
In recent months, activists from HPDC and Divest Harvard — a student group promoting fossil fuel divestment — have ramped up their calls for divestment. The groups have circulated petitions, met privately with Bacow, and rallied outside of Massachusetts Hall in Harvard Yard to advocate for their cause. Bacow met with more activists from the Prison Divestment Campaign in March, a meeting during which he said he did not respond to “demands,” but rather to “reason.”
Earlier this month, protestors from both groups interrupted an event at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum where Bacow was slated to speak, forcing the talk continue after moving to a classroom. Bacow also participated in an hour-long forum this month about fossil fuel divestment where he argued that withdrawing Harvard’s holdings in the fossil fuel industry was not a feasible method for resolving climate issues. At the forum, Bacow said he would be willing to meet with HPDC members again about prison industry divestment.
In their Thursday press release, HPDC refuted the sum Bacow indicated Harvard had invested in prison industry-related companies. The group said their research indicates that the University has $2 million invested in the “prison-industrial complex” as of February. Of that $2 million, HPDC said that roughly $100,000 of that sum is “associated with private prisons alone.” HPDC also said the basis for their numbers accounts for 1 percent of the endowment.
Some companies HPDC cited with ties to the “prison industrial complex” include banks, food servicers, and weapons producers.
“All I can say is that they actually have uncovered evidence that shows that more of the endowment is invested in the prison industrial complex than President Bacow said in this meeting,” Pinto said.
Bacow also proposed a meeting between members of HPDC and the Harvard Management Company — which manages Harvard’s endowment — according to the release.
Thursday’s meetings comes ahead of Divest Harvard’s “Heat Week” campaign set to take place this Monday through Friday. “Heat Week” originally began as week-long protest organized by Divest Harvard in April 2015.
Pinto said HPDC plans to participate in Heat Week and extend their efforts beyond.
“I think it's our job to just kind of keep it up because we expected this. He has said in the past that he listen to, or he responds to, reason not demand,” Pinto said. “We're aware of that, and we're in it for the long haul.”
—Staff writer Alexandra A. Chaidez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @a_achaidez.
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