On April 30, the Office of Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey met with Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard (FFDH) to discuss a historic legal complaint asserting that Harvard’s fossil fuel investments aren’t just immoral, but illegal. The complaint, which was filed in March by FFDH and over 110 cosignatories, has the potential to reshape institutional investing nationwide in a time of climate crisis.
Representing the complaint signatories at the meeting were former SEC Commissioner Bevis Longstreth (HLS ‘61), Representative Erika Uyterhoeven (HBS ‘19), Ted Hamilton (HLS ’16) of the Climate Defense Project, and Mothers Out Front co-founder Kelsey Wirth (College ‘92), along with student organizers Martha Denton (College ‘24), Ilana Cohen (College ‘23), Sofia Andrade (College ‘24), Joseph Winters (College ‘21), and Connor Chung (College ‘23). Representing the Attorney General’s office were senior staff from the Charities and Nonprofits Division, the Health Care and Fair Competition Bureau, and the Environmental Protection Division.
At the meeting, participants discussed the complaint’s arguments regarding the incompatibility of Harvard’s fossil fuel investments with the Massachusetts Uniform Prudent Management of Institutional Funds Act (UPMIFA). Specifically, the act says that Harvard must invest with prudence, with loyalty, and with consideration for broader charitable purposes — mandates that the complaint points out are undermined by continued embrace of an industry misleading the public, covering up financial peril, attacking scholars (including Harvard’s own), and more. As countless peer institutions, such as Oxford, Cornell, Cambridge, Brown, the University of California, and the University of Massachusetts recognize this risk and divest, the document suggests, Harvard’s refusals to act aren’t just hurting the institution and the public, but breaching fiduciary and charitable obligations.
“The AG staff showed strong interest in the students’ brief and the underlying facts that point to the need for an AG investigation of Harvard’s investment practices,” said Longstreth, who as an attorney and legal scholar was influential in UPMIFA’s creation. Harvard’s fossil fuel investments are estimated at $838 million.
The meeting comes on the heels of growing momentum for the complaint, including the support of 130+ Harvard faculty, a second round of signatories (including numerous additional elected officials, former members of the Harvard Board of Overseers, climate scholars, and community organizations), the unanimous endorsement of the Harvard Undergraduate Council, and more. And it’s part of a growing strategy which could echo nationwide if successful, given that nearly every state has adopted some version of UPMIFA.
“Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard made an incredibly clear and strong case for the Attorney General’s office to take action on Harvard” said Uyterhoeven, who as the legislator for 27th Middlesex represents many members of the Harvard community. “The science is clear: we only have 10 years left to stop the climate crisis and we need bold action from our government. I hope that the Attorney General’s office takes action in a transparent and accountable way on behalf of the Harvard community, the general public, and a livable climate we all deserve.”
As the campaign has made clear, Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard remains open to dialogue with the Harvard administration anytime, and is disappointed that the administration continues refusing to meaningfully engage. In the meantime, FFDH looks forward to continuing to fight for the interests of the Harvard community and broader public.
“The world is moving ahead toward a just transition even as Harvard refuses to align its investment practices with its fiduciary responsibilities as a non-profit institution and moral obligation as a university dedicated to advancing young people’s futures,” said Cohen. “As students who care deeply about this institution, we’ll keep fighting to hold it accountable — to achieve a Harvard that not only refuses to be complicit in the climate crisis and injustice but actually leads in combating them.”