CAMBRIDGE, MA — On Friday morning, Harvard University announced the winners of its 2020 Board of Overseer and Harvard Alumni Association Director elections. Among the victorious candidates were Midge Purce, Thea Sebastian, and Jayson Toweh, three members from the Harvard Forward petition slate elected on a platform of divestment, responsible investment, climate leadership, and inclusive governance. This monumental election victory illustrates a clear desire among the Harvard community for change and an institution that represents the diversity of its current alumni and generations to come. It also represents a clear mandate from the voting Harvard alumni body for these Overseers-elect to advocate strongly for fossil fuel divestment, a central issue of their campaign.
“Students, faculty, and now alumni have spoken loud and clear — the Harvard community has lost confidence in Harvard’s climate inaction and unrepresentative governance”
“Students, faculty, and now alumni have spoken loud and clear — the Harvard community has lost confidence in Harvard’s climate inaction and unrepresentative governance,” said Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard. “We look forward to having voices at the table who truly understand and will fight for the interests of young people and future generations, and we were honored to support Harvard Forward throughout this process.”
On April 21, 2020 — the day before Earth Day — members of the administration and the Harvard Corporation responded to almost a decade of pro-divestment activism by announcing a climate policy that fell far short of any meaningful response to the climate crisis. Instead, the announcement institutionalized an embrace of the industry as the planet burns, going so far as to admonish Harvard faculty — whose largest body had voted 90% in favor of fossil fuel divestment — to avoid “alienating or demonizing” fossil fuel companies. It was a decision that won plaudits from industry interests, including a trade group with close ties to ExxonMobil, the company that employs Corporation member Ted Wells as its top lawyer. The same decision established university leadership as standing in direct opposition to the wills of the clear majorities of students, FAS/HMS faculty, and alumni who have voted in favor of divestment and climate action.
Friday’s vote is a loud, clear, and democratic rebuke of the Corporation’s approach, and of the unrepresentative structures of governance that allowed such a decision to be made. The Board of Overseers, Harvard’s highest elected governing board, is tasked with ratifying major university decisions, confirming nominations of Corporation members and senior administrators, and setting the long-term strategy of the university — in other words, it is a board whose decisions could form a part of a meaningful institutional response to the climate crisis. But until now, most of the candidates elected to it have been from slates hand-picked by Harvard Alumni Association leadership, resulting in a governance structure that has often struggled to truly represent the Harvard community as a whole.
These victories provide hope that Harvard may yet change course before its opportunity to lead has entirely vanished. “In the coming years, this new board has a chance to change the University’s direction and put it on the right side of history,” said Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard. “We congratulate all newly elected Overseers, and look forward to working with new and current members of university administration and governance who recognize the urgent need for change.”
“Harvard Forward was proud to have FFDH’s support from start to finish, and we look forward to working with them over the next few years to ensure Harvard acts as a leader in the fight against climate change”
“Harvard Forward was proud to have FFDH’s support from start to finish,” said Toweh, “and we look forward to working with them over the next few years to ensure Harvard acts as a leader in the fight against climate change.”