In late April and early May, Harvard Faculty for Divestment (proponents of shedding endowment investments in companies that produce fossil fuels) posted letters to President Drew Faust and members of the Harvard Corporation reiterating their support for divestment and calling for an open forum for community discussion of the issue.
In an e-mail dated July 10, posted on the faculty group’s website, William F. Lee, writing as the Corporation’s new senior fellow (as of the beginning of that month) and on behalf of the University’s senior governing board, responded to those earlier messages. In itself, his response was a notable example of engagement by a Corporation member, and perhaps a sign of greater interest in being involved in campus conversations (Lee works in Boston and lives in the nearby suburbs). As he briskly noted at the outset, “We fully support President Faust’s conclusion in her letters of October 2013 and April 2014 that the most responsible, effective, and institutionally appropriate way for Harvard to confront the challenge of climate change is to intensify our academic efforts in this important domain through both research and education, to continue Harvard’s aggressive efforts to reduce the University’s own carbon footprint, and to otherwise promote sustainability in the day-to-day activities of our community. Like President Faust, we do not support divestment, believing that engagement is preferable to withdrawal.”
That said, “None of us doubts the reality or the seriousness of the dangers posed by climate change,” Lee wrote. “Thoughtful people, however, hold divergent views about the right way for an institution like ours to confront climate change.” He continued, “All of us believe that Harvard—and the world—must make accelerated progress toward ending reliance on fossil fuels. In our judgment, engagement with energy-producing companies in shared research and development on both the improved efficiency of energy use and development of renewable sources of energy is more likely to achieve this aim than divesting ourselves of investments in fossil fuels and distancing us from the companies that produce them.”