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Divest Student Activists Meet with Bacow, Harvard Corporation Committee for First Time in More Than a Year

A student makes a sign at a Divest Harvard rally in front of Widener Library in November. Organizers from the group met with Harvard administrators in a closed-door meeting last week.
A student makes a sign at a Divest Harvard rally in front of Widener Library in November. Organizers from the group met with Harvard administrators in a closed-door meeting last week. By Claire H. Guo
By Jasper G. Goodman and Kevin A. Simauchi, Crimson Staff Writers

Five representatives of Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard, a student group calling on the University to divest its endowment from the fossil fuel industry, met with University President Lawrence S. Bacow and several members of the Harvard Corporation — the University’s highest governing body — in a closed-door meeting last week.

In the meeting — which took place virtually on Dec. 16 and marked the first discussions between divest organizers and administrators in more than a year — the student activists pushed Harvard to adopt a seven-point plan released in May that calls for full disclosure and divestment of fossil fuels, according to a Divest Harvard press release.

Meeting attendees included members of the Corporation Committee on Shareholder Responsibility, a subcommittee of the Harvard Corporation that advises members on matters related to social responsibility in its investment decisions.

Harvard has long resisted calls to divest from the fossil fuel industry. In April, the Harvard Corporation directed the Harvard Management Company to develop a plan to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the University’s endowment by 2050. At the time, Divest Harvard representatives called the move “insufficient.”

Divest Harvard organizer Joseph Winters ’20-’21, who attended the meeting, said the group was encouraged by the chance to meet with administrators.

“We continue to be very concerned about the University’s climate commitments, and its continued insistence that investment in the fossil fuel industry is necessary and justifiable,” he said. “However, we are happy to have had the opportunity to engage in dialogue with them, and we look forward to an offer that they meet with us on several key issues regarding the University’s climate commitments.”

Winters said Bacow and Harvard Corporation Senior Fellow William F. Lee ’72, who chairs the CCSR, were the most vocal administrators in the discussions.

“I think we definitely feel like it is a step forward because in the past, they have basically refused to engage in dialogue with the campaign,” Winters said. “Although we meet and we tend to disagree on many of the important points about divestment, at least they’re willing to hear us and engage in this conversation, which I think is the first step toward more meaningful action from the University.”

Jason A. Newton, a University spokesperson, wrote in an emailed statement administrators were glad to facilitate a dialogue with student activists.

Newton wrote the University remains committed to exploring ways of mitigating climate change through means other than divestment.

“Members of the Corporation appreciated the opportunity to have further conversation with the students on our shared commitment to urgently address the climate crisis,” Newton wrote. “The University will continue to pursue a range of innovative efforts to advance solutions that mitigate the catastrophic consequences of climate change through our teaching, research, extensive campus sustainability efforts, and through Harvard Management Company’s recently announced commitments.”

—Staff writer Jasper G. Goodman can be reached at jasper.goodman@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jasper_Goodman.

—Staff writer Kevin A. Simauchi can be reached at kevin.simauchi@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @Simauchi.

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