Yesterday Drew Faust, president of Harvard University, became one of my personal heroes. She spoke the truth, and spoke it plainly, as she explained the university’s wise and courageous decision to refrain from divesting in fossil fuel-related businesses. She pointed out the
troubling inconsistency in the notion that, as an investor, [Harvard] should boycott a whole class of companies at the same time that, as individuals and as a community, we are extensively relying on those companies’ products and services for so much of what we do every day. Given our pervasive dependence on these companies for the energy to heat and light our buildings, to fuel our transportation, and to run our computers and appliances, it is hard for me to reconcile that reliance with a refusal to countenance any relationship with these companies through our investments.
Many college and university presidents are today engaged in a never-ending tango with hypocrisy: on the one hand they are caving to the feel-good pressure–usually brought by clueless students, as was the case at Harvard–to shed traditional energy stocks from the endowment, and on the other they are still heating, cooling, and lighting their campuses with fuel from the very same companies they purport to be teaching a lesson. Is it any wonder that the longed-for status of the “public intellectual” is denied them?
By any measure, Harvard sits at the top of the academic heap. So it not at all surprising that it chose not to follow the crowd in making the hollowest of gestures and coarsest of pandering that is fossil-fuel divestment.
Ahem, says Miss with all due modesty, as she points to a few cogent–and now prescient!–comments she has made on this subject. As far back as January, Miss could read the smoke from the smokestacks on the Charles when she noted that “the private Ivies, along with Cal Tech, Johns Hopkins, MIT, Stanford and a handful of powerhouse liberal arts colleges–Amherst, Wellesley and Williams” did not sign something called the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, a pledge by nearly 300 college and university presidents to “participate in the waste minimization component of the national RecycleMania competition.”
As much as I hope that President Faust and her board have set a new direction for pledge-signing presidents, I fear this will not be the case. There’s too much retention at stake to risk the cessation of pandering at those other schools.