Harvard Faculty Divestment Debate | Harvard Magazine

Hubbard Glacier, in Alaska, calves into Disenchantment Bay. Temperatures are increasing especially rapidly in the northern latitudes, with pronounced effect on glaciers and the Arctic Ice Cap.

Photograph by Don Mennig/iStock

By John S. Rosenberg 10.2.19

Faculty advocates of divesting Harvard investments in the production, distribution, and combustion of fossil fuels presented their case during the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) meeting on October 1—a prelude to a debate expected to take place at the next FAS meeting, scheduled for November 5. The two-part airing of the issue is the result of a question raised at the April 2 FAS meeting, when Vuilleumier professor of philosophy Edward Hall and several colleagues rose during the question period to ask President Lawrence S. Bacow whether he would participate in—or ideally lead—and open forum about fossil-fuel investments and Harvard’s role in responding to the climate-change crisis.

Hall acknowledged then that the president and the Harvard Corporation had consistently maintained the University’s opposition to divestment—a subject on which student, faculty, and alumni advocates of divestment have organized, protested, and spoken out for years, during which they had repeatedly sought such an open forum with the president and representation from the governing board. Bacow agreed to the request for such a discussion, leading to yesterday’s presentations. (The president, away for Rosh Hashanah, was not present; FAS dean Claudine Gay presided over the meeting.)

For the record, and as background for the November 5 discussion, Harvard Magazine publishes the speakers’ statements from yesterday’s meeting, which took the form of serial presentations with limited discussion after, rather than a debate. They focus principally on scientific knowledge about climate change, the resulting impacts, and divestment, but also on broader University actions encompassing the institution’s academic mission and its daily operations.

It is not yet known what action FAS may be asked to take formally—nor, given the Corporation’s responsibility for such investment policy, what effect FAS’s powers of persuasion or legislation may ultimately have on the University’s decisions.

“Now act as if it’s real”:

Edward Hall, Vuilleumier professor of philosophy

At last April’s FAS meeting, several of us asked President Bacow to lead discussions within the FAS about Harvard’s response to the climate crisis, particularly in its investments. He agreed, and we are looking forward to a series of open discussions of climate issues in this venue. He will attend our next meeting. Today we lay some crucial background for those discussions, provided by my colleagues Jim Anderson and Naomi Oreskes. (My colleague Joyce Chaplin will be speaking for Naomi, as she can’t be here due to illness.) We are also drafting a White Paper on Harvard’s response to the climate crisis, which we will circulate in the next two weeks.

…(read more).

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