In September of 2021, following a decade of campaigning by students, faculty, and alums, Harvard University committed to divestment from the fossil fuel industry. For a university that had time and time again publicly embraced the fossil fuel industry and its vision for the future, it was a major reversal — and one thanks in large part to years of activism, from historic legal complaints to protests that garnered worldwide attention, by the Harvard community.
Today, Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard sent the following email to university leadership calling for the university to learn from the lessons of the past decade — to provide transparency and openness surrounding the university’s shift, and to collaborate with the Harvard community as the institution finally begins to look towards the future.
Dear President and Fellows of Harvard College,
Last month, following nearly a decade of our campaign’s organizing, you committed to fully divesting the endowment from fossil fuel companies. We are glad, for the sake of all of our futures and those of the planet and university, that Harvard has listened to its community and taken these steps. It’s clear that divestment works, and we’re heartened to see other institutions already following suit: in the time since Harvard’s announcement, Boston University, the MacArthur Foundation, California State University, and the University of Minnesota have all committed to divestment.
However, we believe the policy change you announced is only the beginning of fulfilling your moral and fiduciary duty and ensuring that Harvard can rise to the challenges of the future. Accordingly, in hopes that Harvard is serious about working toward climate leadership and in the interest of accountability to the Harvard community and broader public, we believe it is critical that you provide answers to the questions raised in the wake of this policy change and take the necessary next steps outlined below.
First, Harvard must establish a clear timeline and details for its divestment process. Having acknowledged that fossil fuel investments are imprudent and incompatible with its institutional mission, Harvard must clarify exactly how it plans to achieve its stated commitment to divestment. What is the specific timeline for ending the remaining indirect investments in fossil fuels? How will Harvard ensure that its timeline reflects the urgency of the climate crisis? Can Harvard provide a written list of all the companies that meet its divestment criterion of exploring for or developing further reserves of fossil fuels — which, if applied in good faith, should include all major fossil fuel companies — and disclose how it is enforcing divestment from these companies when it comes to third-party managers of the endowment and across all asset classes? And, now that Harvard has taken the critical step of committing to divestment and thus has a much better chance at achieving its net-zero goals, will Harvard take action to resolve the many other shortcomings and loopholes in its present endowment decarbonization plan?
Second, Harvard must act with transparency in the divestment process and in disclosing other ties to the fossil fuel industry. This includes creating accountability mechanisms to ensure that the university’s divestment plan is carried out in good faith and answering key questions about community engagement. What steps will Harvard take to involve the community in the implementation of its divestment commitment and the evaluation of its progress? More broadly, what will Harvard do to ensure that university and endowment governance is transparent, democratic, and open and that it properly takes into account the voice of students, faculty, alumni, and other community members? And will Harvard disclose the full extent of fossil fuel companies’ influence on campus by making publicly visible the scope and nature of the university research and programs the industry funds?
Third, Harvard must prioritize justice and institutional responsibility. Now that Harvard has publicly acknowledged the relationship between climate change and investment policy, it is vital that the university consider how best to ensure that the endowment serves its mission and the public interest. Aside from The Engine, how exactly is Harvard Management Company investing in the transition to a greener and fairer economy? To what extent is HMC accounting for principles of equity and justice in pursuing these investments? Now that Harvard has acknowledged the connection between its endowment and its institutional mission, what steps is Harvard taking to divest from other exploitative and extractive practices and industries, including but not limited to the prison industrial complex, land grabs, Puerto Rican debt, and companies complicit in human rights abuses towards Palestinians? And how will Harvard address the harm done to communities directly impacted by its unethical investments?
Our campaign remains dedicated to achieving the full measures of fossil fuel divestment and just and sustainable reinvestment that the Harvard community and broader public, as well as Harvard’s espoused commitments and responsibility as a powerful university, demand. Right now, the world is watching Harvard closely to see how it will move forward. Will Harvard fail to live up to and build on its historic commitment to divestment from an industry that is clinging to a deadly core business model? Or will Harvard rise to the opportunity that its divestment commitment has provided and prioritize the just energy transition on which all of our futures depend?
We hope Harvard will fulfill its promises and potential. That starts with providing the information outlined above. We are happy to discuss the contents of this letter and any questions you may have in a meeting at your convenience.
Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard