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Faculty to Vote on Fossil Fuel Divestment Motion

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences meets in University Hall in Harvard Yard.
The Faculty of Arts and Sciences meets in University Hall in Harvard Yard. By Steve S. Li
By James S. Bikales and Kevin R. Chen, Crimson Staff Writers

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences will debate a motion that advises Harvard to divest its endowment from fossil fuels at its monthly meeting Tuesday, according to an agenda shared with faculty members Friday.

The motion, which will be introduced by English department chair Nicholas J. Watson, would advise the Harvard Corporation — the University’s highest governing body — to instruct the Harvard Management Company to withdraw from and no longer pursue investments in companies that “explore for or develop further reserves of fossil fuels.” The proposal also asks the Corporation to replace HMC investment advisers who are “unwilling or unable to comply” with the motion.

Watson wrote in an email that he understands an FAS vote cannot compel the University to divest, but he hopes such a vote would pressure the Corporation to divest.

“We do want to press the Corporation to act, so that Harvard can be near the forefront of this movement, rather than bringing up the rear,” Watson wrote. “In our view, not only is a shift away from fossil fuels urgently necessary for the future of the planet; the only way this shift is going to come about is by taking on the fossil fuel industry directly. If a major research and educational institutional like Harvard isn’t willing to do this, who will be?”

University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain declined to comment on Watson’s email, referring to previous statements on divestment.

University President Lawrence S. Bacow, following the precedent of several University presidents, has maintained that the University’s endowment not be used as a tool to enact social change. Instead, he has said that the University must work with industry players to address climate change, among other arguments.

Watson wrote in his email that a group of professors using the name Harvard Faculty for Divestment has been calling for divestment for more than five years. In 2014, the group wrote an open letter to former University President Drew G. Faust and members of the Harvard Corporation urging for fossil fuel divestment.

In a survey administered by The Crimson in May 2018, 67 percent of FAS faculty indicated they support fossil fuel divestment.

Tuesday’s vote marks the culmination of a months-long discussion on climate and divestment that played out in the faculty’s October, November, and December meetings. In December, Watson introduced the motion which the faculty will vote upon on Tuesday.

English professor James T. Engell ’73 proposed an amendment to Watson’s original motion which the faculty will also vote on Tuesday, per the agenda. In it, he suggests that all future endowment investments should be subjected to a “system of decarbonization” in order to achieve emissions reduction goals set by international experts.

—Staff writer James S. Bikales can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jamepdx.
— Staff writer Kevin R. Chen can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @kchenx.

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FASFAS AdministrationUniversity FinancesFacultyEnvironmentDivestment

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