Harvard Refuses to Divest from Fossil Fuels

by | Oct 7, 2013

HarvardHarvard University, which has the world’s largest college endowment valued at $32.7 billion, has decided to continue its investment in fossil fuels, despite heavy pressure from environmental activists.

The announcement comes after the August hire of Jameela Pedicini as Harvard’s first vice president for sustainable investment, a position created following a student-led activist campaign demanding the school divest its holdings in fossil fuel companies.

In a letter posted on Harvard‘s website, the college’s president Drew Faust says despite numerous conversations with students criticizing the university’s fossil fuel investments and her own belief in the “importance” of addressing climate change, she and the university’s corporation committee on shareholder responsibility have agreed that divestment from the fossil fuel industry would be neither “warranted or wise.”

Faust’s argument against divestment hinges on Harvard’s existence as an educational institution rather than an advocacy platform. The funds in the endowment, Faust says, were given to Harvard by benefactors seeking to advance academic aims, not to serve other purposes, “however worthy.” As a result, those in charge of the investments maintain a “strong presumption” against divesting investment assets for reasons unrelated to the endowment’s financial strength, Faust writes.

The endowment currently funds more than one-third of the university activities each year, the letter says.

Furthermore, Faust says that the university needs to be wary of using its financial clout to exert political pressure, a situation that she says could “entail serious risks” to the independence of Harvard’s academic enterprise. Faust also says it would be somewhat hypocritical to boycott a whole class of companies whose products and services the Harvard community is “extensively relying on” in their day-to-day lives.

A Bloomberg study published in June found that despite multiple colleges — including Green Mountain College, College of the Atlantic, Hampshire College, and Sterling College — divesting from fossil fuels, the moves have yet to financially impact large electric oil, and gas companies. However, the schools choosing to divest have not been impacted either, the news service reported.

The San Jose-based Santa Clara Valley Water District unanimously voted in August to divest from fossil fuel companies.

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