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Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard — a student and alumni group that for years advocated that the University divest its endowment from fossil fuels — released a report last week calling on the school to invest more in environmental causes and local municipal governments and to reform its governing boards.
The report, titled “Whose University? The Case for Reinvestment at Harvard,” comes after Harvard announced in the fall that it would eventually end its remaining investments in the fossil fuel industry. In the report, FFDH called on Harvard to “reinvest” its funds in causes “that will repair the harm it has caused in the past,” such as affordable housing and renewable energy.
The report also called on Harvard to make its governing boards more democratic, calling the selection process for the Harvard Corporation — the University’s highest governing body — “deeply untransparent and undemocratic.”
FFDH organizer Jade O. Woods ’22 said the report was compiled after input from a wide range of Harvard affiliates.
“This has really been a community-driven process,” Woods said. “We, as FFDH, aren’t standing here saying that we know what’s best for Harvard to do with this money. We’re saying that the community has consensus on what it wants.”
Woods said local groups and experts including the Black Response Cambridge and Boston regenerative finance experts filled in “gaps in knowledge.”
FFDH organizers argued that Harvard has failed to invest enough into its surrounding areas. Claire E. Pryor ’23, an organizer for the group who co-wrote the report, said Harvard is “an unbelievably huge gentrifying force.”
The report called on Harvard to invest $1 billion in affordable housing in Cambridge, Allston, and other surrounding municipalities.
Harvard currently participates in an array of affordable housing initiatives, including the All Bright Homeownership Program, a partnership between the University and Allston Brighton Community Development Corporation aimed at increasing home ownership, to which Harvard has contributed around $3 million. In 2019, the University also committed $20 million to the Harvard Local Housing Collaborative, an initiative first launched under a different name in 2000 that aims to increase the affordable housing stock in Cambridge and Boston.
The school has also donated property to affordable housing developments.
Still, some local officials who participated in crafting the report, called on the school to do more to invest in housing.
Cambridge City Council member Quinton Y. Zondervan, who worked with FFDH on its listening tour, wrote in an email that he collaborated with the group in hopes of seeing “clear commitments” from Harvard, including more support for affordable housing.
Ayesha M. Wilson, a member of the Cambridge Public Schools Committee, said she hopes Harvard will reinvest money into public education and providing internships and paid work experiences to young people in Cambridge. She also called on the school to prioritize investments in affordable housing.
The report also said the school should “dramatically increase” payments through the Payments in Lieu of Taxes Program — a state program that allows municipalities to request payments from nonprofits whose land is tax-exempt. The payments are optional.
Harvard’s contributions through the program have fallen short of the amount Boston city officials requested each year since 2012.
School officials have pushed back on claims that Harvard doesn’t do enough for its surrounding communities. After a PILOT reform bill was introduced in the Massachusetts state legislature last year that would make the payments mandatory, Harvard spokesperson Brigid O’Rourke wrote that the University provides a variety of “programs, initiatives and outreach” to local residents on top of PILOT payments and required municipal taxes.
“These local benefits are an important extension of Harvard’s mission, serve thousands of local residents every year, and reflect years of collaboration between the University, its neighbors, and city partners,” O’Rourke wrote at the time.
The report also took aim at Harvard’s governance structure, calling for the University’s two governing boards — the Harvard Corporation and the Board of Overseers — to be reformed.
It said the Harvard Corporation, which weighs in on most major University decisions, should become democratic.
“Thirteen people in a room somewhere shouldn’t be making decisions for thousands of people’s lives,” Woods said of the Corporation.
Harvard spokesperson Jason A. Newton declined to comment on the report's criticism of the Corporation.
The report was one of the first major organizing efforts FFDH has launched since the University announced in the fall that it would move to divest its endowment from fossil fuels.
“In the past, when we’ve been organizing for divestment — that’s one clear ask,” Woods said. “And now we have about a dozen new asks that are much more detailed, and explicit. And so I think that our style of organizing will necessarily have to change.”
Correction: May 11, 2022
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated a report issued by Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard was the group’s first organizing effort since September 2021. In fact, it was involved with several protests in the following months.
—Staff Writer Christie K. Choi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff Writer Carrie Hsu can be reached at email@example.com.
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