President Lawrence S. Bacow speaks at the 2018 Freshman Convocation. Photo: Timothy R. O’Meara
By Alexandra A. Chaidez, Crimson Staff Writer 13 hours ago
University President Lawrence S. Bacow remained firm in his stance against divestment in an interview Friday, just as student activists demand he take part in a public forum on fossil fuel divestment.
Bacow reiterated Harvard presidents’ long standing policy against divestment, originally put forth by former University President Derek C. Bok: Harvard’s nearly $40 billion endowment is not — and has never been — a mechanism for social change.
“The endowment exists to support the institution, to support our students, and to support our faculty,” Bacow said. “And it was on those terms that our donors have entrusted the resources to us. They’ve said here, here are these resources which we want you to invest to support these activities — not to accomplish some other ends.”
Divestment is not unheard of — Harvard most recently withdrew investments from the tobacco industry in 1990 — but it is rare.
Bacow also said that in order to decrease fossil fuel use in the long run, the University must “engage with the fossil fuel industry” as “shareholders,” as well as through research.
“I don’t understand how we on the one hand say we think it’s immoral to own your stock, but, by the way, we would like to work closely with you as you develop clean technology, as you develop cap and trade systems, as we seek to create a carbon tax, for example,” Bacow said.
“The information that allows us to do those things lie within industry. We can’t do that on our own. So if we’re going to affect the world through our scholarship we need to engage, not isolate ourselves,” he added.
Bacow’s position comes at a time when student activists from across the University are reinvigorating their calls for Bacow and the Harvard Management Company — the University’s investment arm — to withdraw its controversial investments, including those from companies within the fossil fuel industry or with connections to prisons.
Students seeking divestment from these industries have delivered petitions to Massachusetts Hall, met personally with Bacow to present their concerns, and most recently, demanded Bacow participate in a public forum with students regarding divestment.
Divest Harvard — a student group committed to divesting Harvard from fossil fuels — sent a statement to Bacow Friday asking him to partake in a public forum about divestment from the fossil fuel industry at “any time and in any place.”