Harvard Rejects Divestment—President Faust Refuses to Make a Deal with the Devil

// Last November, Harvard University held a referendum, initiated by the anti-fossil fuel activists of gofossilfree.org, on the question of whether the school should symbolically divest its endowment of any investments in fossil fuel companies, on grounds that “it’s wrong to profit from wrecking the climate.” 72% of students voted ‘yes.’

Last week, President Drew Faust announced that Harvard would not accede to the activists’ demands, for several common sense reasons, such as the danger of conceiving of the endowment “as a tool to inject the University into the political process or as a lever to exert economic pressure for social purposes” which “can entail serious risks to the independence of the academic enterprise.” But she also gave an unexpected and refreshing reason:

I . . . find a troubling inconsistency in the notion that, as an investor, we should boycott a whole class of companies at the same time that, as individuals and as a community, we are extensively relying on those companies’ products and services for so much of what we do every day. Given our pervasive dependence on these companies for the energy to heat and light our buildings, to fuel our transportation, and to run our computers and appliances, it is hard for me to reconcile that reliance with a refusal to countenance any relationship with these companies through our investments.

This single paragraph may be the best education Harvard students ever receive on the value of fossil fuels, unless the university’s educators heed the advice of dozens of leading professors, scientists and energy experts who have urged American universities to educate students on the role of fossil fuel energy in the healthy lives we enjoy today. Their letter, “Don’t Divest, Educate,” calls for a real fossil fuel debate, in which facts about fossil fuels’ enormous benefits to man’s environment are admissible, not just their risks.

Now that Harvard’s divestment movement has been set back in its attempt to use the school’s imprimatur to win the fossil fuel debate by administrative fiat, let’s encourage Harvard and other universities to foster a real debate. Go to CIP’s divestment FAQ Page to find out how you can promote a legitimate fossil fuel debate at your school.