For Fossil Fuel Divestment, Harvard Alumni Turning up the Heat

By Benjamin Franta

The fossil fuel divestment debate at Harvard continues to intensify, with students performing their first sit-in at the office of Harvard’s president last week.

Yet students are not the only ones agitating for divestment; alumni are also turning up the heat. Earlier this month, the Fossil Free Alumni Fund, designed to withhold alumni donations from Harvard until it divests, was announced. In addition, the Harvard-Radcliffe Club of Vermont, the first Harvard alumni club to endorse divestment with an official vote, has sent a letter, copied below, to the Harvard Corporation formally requesting divestment from fossil fuels. The letter comes on the heels of other recent open letters from alumni to the Harvard Corporation, also below, including one signed by dozens of alumni including Todd Gitlin, Michael Kazin, Gay Seidman, Kelsey Wirth, and Bill McKibben.

From the Harvard-Radcliffe Club of Vermont:

The Harvard Corporation

Office of the President

Massachusetts Hall

Harvard University

Cambridge, MA 02138

Monday, February 9, 2015

Dear President Faust and Fellows of the Corporation:

The Harvard Radcliffe Club of Vermont requests that the President and Fellows of the Harvard Corporation divest the University’s portfolio of all publicly traded fossil fuel stocks. We do not call for this lightly. Our group was not organized for activist purposes; yet the urgency of climate change compels thoughtful citizens to speak out. We do so only after considerable deliberation, including meetings, guest speakers, and review of the literature and of the University’s stated positions. We conducted a survey of our membership; a resolution urging Harvard to divest was approved by a majority of 76%. We are taking the unusual step of communicating with you directly to voice our concern.

As Harvard alumni, we take pride in the fact that Harvard faculty and researchers are world leaders on both the science and politics of climate change. Yet the University’s involvement, through its investment strategy, in activities that threaten global catastrophe is inconsistent with the values of intellectual integrity and social responsibility that Harvard represents. Such investments are now felt by many financial analysts to be short-sighted and even imprudent.

We appreciate all the things Harvard is doing to address climate change. However the urgency of the crisis transcends piecemeal solutions. Other institutions are awakening to this urgency. Harvard should be leading by example on all fronts. We would be proud to see it do so.

Thank you for your consideration. We would appreciate a reply.

Respectfully submitted,

Al Boright, ’68


200 Portal Road

Middlesex, VT 05602


Katherine Hikel ’74 MD; Vice President

William B. Miller, Jr., HLS ’76; Secretary

Catherine M. McClure CAS Graduate School of Education ’88; Treasurer

David Goodman ’82; Chair, HRCVT Schools and Scholarship Committee

Carol Calhoun per Jose M. Calhoun, HLS ’53

Don Hooper ’68

From Reverend Betsy Sowers, an American Baptist minister, and 57 other alumni:

President Drew Faust and Fellows of the Harvard Corporation

Office of the President

Harvard University

Massachusetts Hall

Cambridge, MA 02138

January 21, 2015

Dear Dr. Faust and Fellows of the Harvard Corporation:

On January 14, 2015, both The Guardian and Rolling Stone published articles on fossil fuel divestment debunking Harvard’s arguments against divestment, and criticizing its recent increase of tens of millions of dollars in fossil fuel investments.

As members of Divest Harvard Alumni, many of us have contacted you, arguing the same moral and fiscal points. Now the critique is public and global. We are dismayed that the institution where we learned to think critically and to seek truth is becoming known for uncritically and amorally investing itself in a catastrophic future. Seeing Harvard presented this way in the public sphere is an embarrassment to us all and a deterrent to prospective students, who will be walking into a struggle where they will be called upon to take a stand.

We urge you to reconsider, and to invest in Harvard’s global leadership and future reputation by divesting from fossil fuels and reinvesting for a sustainable future.


The Rev. Betsy Sowers, M.Div ’81

Craig Altemose, HLS/HKS ’10

Franziska Amacher AIA NCARB LEED AP WBE

Sophie Angelis, College ’13

Nancy Beall, College ’71

Kitty Beer, Radcliffe, ’59

Dan Breslaw, College, A.B. ’59

The Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, Ph.D. ’84

Dr. Doug Burke, College ’67

Rick Colson, Ed.M. ’76

The Rev. C. Irving Cummings, A.B, M.Div. ’81

Dr. Laurent A. Daloz, M.A.T ’63, Ed.D. ’72

Éva Borsody Das, College ’63

Sachin Desai, HLS ’13

Dr. Lana Ruegamer Eisenberg, BA, Extension ’65

Dr. Paul D. Eisenberg, Ph.D. ’67

Dr. Katherine Forrest, BA ’63, MD ’67, MPH ’71

The Rev. Cynthia Frado, M.Div. ’91

Polly (Mary L.) Freeman, College ’79

Todd Gitlin, College ’63

K.C. Golden, MPP ’88

Dr. Daniel Goodenough, ’66, ’70, Takeda Professor of Cell Biology, emeritus

David Gullette, College ’62

Margaret Morganroth Gullette, Radcliffe ’62

Helena French Halperin, College ’63

Dr. Daniel M. Hausman, College ’69

David Hausman, College,’08

Marjorie Heins, HLS ’78

Dr. Douglas Hendren, ’72-3

The Rev. Kurt Hoelting, HDS, M.Civ.’77

Joel A. Huberman, College ’63

Anne Elberfeld Huberman, College ’63

Steven H. Johnson, College ’64

Dr. Robert A. Jonas, Ed.D. ’83

Dr. Michael Kazin, College ’70

Benjamin Klug, College ’14

Bevis Longstreth, HLS ’61

Clara St. John Longstreth, Radcliffe ’59

Frances Maher, College ’64

The Rev. Dr. Robert Kinloch Massie, D.B.A. ’89

Akhil Mathew, College ’14

Marc McKee, College’72

Bill McKibben, College ’82

James O. Michel, College ’72

Alice P. Neuhauser, College ’84

Dr. Sharon Parks, Th.D. ’80

Dr. Kenneth Porter, College ’63

Susan Redlich, HSPH ’76

Eva Roben, College, ’13

Gay Seidman, College ’78, Overseer ’92

Michael Small, College,’79

Dr. Helen Snively, AB ’71, MEd ’91, EdD ’99

Tom Staley, College,’64

Wen Stephenson, College,’90

The Rev. Paul Thomas, M.Div. ’78

Joseph Wilson, College ’64

Kelsey Wirth, College ’91

Chris Young Extension, ALB ’90

From Harvard Graduate School of Education alum Rick Colson:

February 4, 2015

Dear President Faust:

In Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare said, “The evil that men do lives after them, The good is oft interred with their bones.” I wonder, what will your legacy be?

You have often spoken of keeping “politics” and “causes” out of Harvard’s investment strategy… and surely you take to heart the fiduciary responsibility to maximize these investments. However, the very attempt to separate the investments from politics is, in itself, a political statement. It is a resistance to the will of many in the Harvard community and a denial of the importance of our children’s and grandchildren’s lives. As David Brower, Former Executive Director and Founder of The Sierra Club once said, “We don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”

Wise voices, those far wiser than my own, have called for divestment. Some have made great sacrifices to make this call. The role of fossil fuels in the steady deterioration of our environment is beyond question. The ways in which many continue to profit from these fuels is no less evil than profiting from war, disease or other disasters. People will (and are) dying as a result of climate change. Would you stand by and allow war profiteering as a means to increase the return from the University’s investments? Would you allow the propagation of disease in order to simply grow return? Would you invest or allow the University to invest in a venture designed to destroy the lives of our children and their children? That is what fossil fuels do. That is an “inconvenient truth.”

Leon Wieseltier (The New Republic) asked the right questions: “The questions that we must ask ourselves, and that our historians and our children will ask of us, are these: How will what we create compare with what we inherited? Will we add to our tradition or will we subtract from it? Will we enrich it or will we deplete it?” How will you be remembered, President Faust, as one who grew the University’s portfolio by leveraging the future health and well being of our children, or as the leader with the courage and conviction to stand up and lead in meaningful, moral and beneficial action? This is your choice. The future quite literally depends on your answer and the answers of those like you.

Even when looked at from a purely fiduciary perspective, the reality is that investments in fossil fuels are demonstrating diminishing returns… a trend that will only increase as alternative energy grows. All of us in the divestment movement implore you… In the name of Harvard and its reputation, and in keeping with your fiduciary and moral responsibility, forge a new investment strategy in clean, renewable energy.

Rick Colson

Ed.M. ’76


And from Harvard College, Harvard School of Public Health, and Harvard Medical School alum Katherine Forrest:

February 5, 2015

President Faust:

Regrettably, your background in academia is inappropriate and inadequate for dealing with the challenge you are facing now with regard to climate change. Academics think, they deliberate, they consider all sides of issues, and they teach others to do the same. They are devoted to this approach–it is not only their modus operandi, but also their ideal.

Academics are not action-oriented. I know this first hand–not only from having been an academic myself (at Yale & Harvard) and knowing many academics, but also because my two sons and one of my daughters-in-law are academics.

Anthropogenic climate change is happening at too rapid a rate for the academic approach. In the cosmic scheme of things, it won’t matter at all whether Harvard as an institution was being energy efficient, or whether its scholars were studying climate change and postulating what the effects of certain actions might be, or whether it was gaining the absolute maximum return on investment of its endowment funds.

Humanity and all life on the planet are in the midst of an unprecedented crisis. We humans are making this happen by polluting our atmosphere and oceans with carbon dioxide and methane. We need to stop doing this NOW, not at some indefinite time in the future.

The reason that Harvard students, alumni, and faculty are demanding that Harvard divest from fossil fuels is because the situation demands ACTION now. The most powerful, appropriate action that Harvard can take is to use its world-wide reputation to get attention to the immorality of destroying the future for the sake of present profits. It’s time for YOU to take action, too, however much it may go against the grain. It’s time to see Harvard as a potent, global attention-getting symbol, not just as a respected academic institution with a big endowment.

Your failure thus far to step up to the unique challenge of these times suggests inflexibility, stubbornness, and inability to see beyond the confines of the stereotypic role of a university. I do hope you can step up to the unique challenge of these times. However, if it’s beyond your capability to recognize when action is needed and when the academic approach is not appropriate, you are indeed the wrong person to have in charge of a university of Harvard’s iconic status.

Katherine Alden Forrest

BA ’63, MD ’67, MPH ’71

If these letters are any indication, the fossil fuel divestment campaign at Harvard is just getting started.

Benjamin Franta is a PhD Candidate in Applied Physics at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, a research fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School, and a member of Divest Harvard and the Harvard Climate Justice Coalition.


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