This morning, a large and distinguished group of faculty at Harvard University released an open letter to President Drew Gilpin Faust and the Harvard Corporation. It calls, in striking terms, for divestment of the university’s endowment—the largest university endowment in the world—from fossil-fuel corporations. Perhaps most striking, it responds forcefully, and at times bluntly, to Faust’s public statements opposing divestment. The letter begins:
Our University invests in the fossil fuel industry: this is for us the central issue. We now know that fossil fuels cause climate change of unprecedented destructive potential. We also know that many in this industry spend large sums of money to mislead the public, deny climate science, control legislation and regulation, and suppress alternative energy sources.
We are therefore disappointed in the statements on divestment made by President Faust on October 3, 2013 and April 7, 2014. They appear to misconstrue the purposes and effectiveness of divestment. We believe that the Corporation is making a decision that in the long run will not serve the University well. [Read the rest of the letter.]
The faculty’s challenge comes hard on the heels of Faust’s latest pronouncement on the subject of climate change, in which she appeared to move ever so slightly in the direction of moral seriousness, yet reaffirmed her opposition to divestment and doubled down on the unserious path of action she has advocated in the past, which is restricted to research, campus greening and investor engagement with fossil-fuel companies.
The faculty letter also comes after many months of organizing, campaigning and writing by students and supportive alumni. (See, for example, these posts by undergraduates Chloe Maxmin and Hannah Borowsky, grad students Tim DeChristopher, Ben Franta and Ted Hamilton and alums Todd Gitlin of Columbia University and former SEC Commissioner Bevis Longstreth. How often does a Reagan appointee join forces with a ’60s-era president of SDS?) I even had a few words to say on the subject myself.