Harvard Faculty Ask for Open Dialogue and Forum on Divestment

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Harvard

September 11, 2014; Harvard Crimson

Members of the Harvard University faculty who support divestment from companies tied to the fossil fuel industry released a statement on September 9th addressing the Harvard Corporation and the Harvard Management Company asking for “open dialogue” and an “open and public forum” on the issue. The letter comes as part of a persistent debate at Harvard and other higher education institutions regarding universities’ associations with corporations that use fossil fuels.

“We conclude from the overwhelming evidence now available that we must embrace such change, in part by weaning ourselves off fossil fuels as quickly as possible,” said the letter. “The alternative is a future of potentially catastrophic change that will most emphatically not be of our choosing. In the face of this scientific and ethical clarity, the fossil fuel industry pollutes our politics and media with pseudo-scientific disputation and continues to promote business as usual.”

Harvard Faculty for Divestment’s website includes this year’s correspondences between the members of the divestment group, Harvard University president Drew G. Faust, and William Lee, Senior Fellow of the Harvard Corporation. As seen on the group’s website, written communication between the faculty and administration began back in April when a letter was circulated and garnered more than 100 signatures by faculty members calling for more sustained and “thoughtful exchange” on the issues of divestment and climate change.

The back-and-forth that Harvard faculty has undergone this past year falls well in line with the experiences of college students and faculty around the country passionate about climate change. While Pitzer College and Stanford University in California both agreed to sell their fossil fuel holdings this year, they are in the minority of institutions willing to make that commitment. Indeed, readers may remember some of our past coverage assessing the challenges of divestment and specifically looking at the implications of Stanford’s decision. According to a survey conducted by Inside Higher Ed and Gallup looking at sustainability and debt in universities, only six percent of business officers think institutions should divest from fossil fuels. At the end of August, the Yale Corporation of Yale University voted against divesting.

Harvard Faculty for Divestment have asked repeatedly for a meeting between themselves, HMC, and the Harvard Corporation, but one has yet to take place. The group is planning to hold a forum on October 26th, with faculty representatives giving presentations on divestment.—Shafaq Hasan