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Harvard refuses climate change advocates' call to divest its oil and gas stocks

Posted by Your Town  December 7, 2012 07:04 PM

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Despite pressure from climate change activists, Harvard University officials said Friday that it is unlikely the university will divest its holdings in fossil fuel stocks.

A Harvard University spokesman declined to speak to the Globe on the record, but a statement issued by the university said that the University Corporation’s Committee on Shareholder Responsibility, a subcommittee one of Harvard’s governing boards, plans to meet with students in the Harvard’s chapter of Students for a Just and Stable Future, a group that advocates for fossil fuel divestment and clean energy.

"Members of the University Corporation's Committee on Shareholder Responsibility (CCSR) will meet students next semester to discuss endowment investment policies and the students' concerns regarding fossil fuels,” the statement said. “But, as we have stated before, the University has a strong presumption against divestment."

The Harvard Crimson reported that in an undergraduate election last month 72 percent of students who voted supported divestment.

Student climate change activists at a number of campuses around the U.S., including Boston University, Tufts University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, are pressing universities to divest their endowments’ holdings in oil and gas stocks.

Chloe Maxmin, a member of Harvard’s chapter of Students for a Just and Stable Future, said that this semester they emailed Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust half a dozen times, and went to her office six times without a response. Then on Wednesday, the group received an email from the President’s office, which said that its members would have the opportunity to talk with members univesity officials next semester.

The Crimson recently reported that Faust said it was “unlikely” that Harvard would change its investment strategy after the meeting.

“My argument would be that our most effective impact on climate change is not going to come through any kind of divestment activity,” Faust told the Crimson. “It’s going to come through what we do with our teaching, our research, the people...we support, the students who may be the heads of the EPA or all kinds of organizations.”

Alli Welton, who is also a member of the student group, said its members learned that Harvard was investing in fossil fuels after reading public records filed by the university. The most recent SEC filing for the Harvard Management Company, which she said covers only $1 billion of Harvard’s $30.7 billion endowment, showed that the university invests in WPX Energy and Petrobras.

Welton, a sophomore, said that although the progress has been slow, she is glad the university is finally responding.

“The administration has changed its tone,” she said.

In an email by Jane L. Mendillo, the president and chief executive officer of the Harvard Management Company, which was republished on Harvard’s SJSF chapter website, wrote that although the university invests in “fossil fuel related businesses,” they are also concerned with issues of sustainability.

“We, like many other members of the Harvard community, are concerned with the long-term health of our planet, as well as Harvard’s ability to pursue its core mission for many generations to come,” she wrote.

Mendillo also wrote that the mission of Harvard Management Company is to successfully invest in stocks.

“At HMC, our singular mission is to produce long-term investment results to support the educational and research goals of the University,” she wrote. “We are, by the nature of our mission, concerned with responsible stewardship and sustainability. While we are careful to avoid constraining our investment universe unnecessarily, we are responsible investors who fully vet potential investments and investment partners for long-term viability.”

Maxmin said the group is pleased that Harvard is open to at least discussing these issues.

“At the beginning of the semester, President Faust said she would not be divesting, and now she said it is unlikely,” Maxmin said. “And that’s a step forward.”

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