Well played, Harvard.
But you'll always be the Exxon of higher education.
Rather than share my latest (which, um, is running a bit late), at the moment I’d like to share some old stuff — and some current thoughts.
In September 2013, I gave this speech at the very first rally of Harvard Alumni for Divestment out in front of Mass Hall, which houses both the President’s office, on the first two floors, and student dorms on the upper floors, and was where I lived as a freshman in 1986-87.
Well, as you may have heard tell by now, Harvard has gone public with its stealth divestment from fossil fuels — after nearly a decade of pressure from students, alumni, and faculty — announcing yesterday that it has all but ceased to invest in the fossil fuel industry.
Ta-da! We won!
President Lawrence Bacow’s statement (sent by email to the Harvard community) never actually uses the word “divestment,” or mentions a thing about the industry’s culpability in unprecedented crimes against humanity (in the form of catastrophic climate change), but so what? Divestment by any other name is still divestment (or is it?). Let’s call it divestment sans la lettre — and sans any political or moral content (which is, of course, the point) — an admission of defeat, while maintaining that inimitable imperial posture of benevolent omniscience.
And it’s only a decade late! That’s leadership! Yay for Harvard!
Sorry, if you detect a less than sincere note in the above celebratory paragraphs, it may have something to do with my personal engagement in this particular fight.
Those of you who’ve followed my work on climate for the past decade will recall that I invested a fair amount of time and energy in the Harvard divestment campaign for the better part of four years, from the get-go in fall 2012 until mid 2016, when I had to admit that I was burned out. What you may not know is that I helped organize and launch the alumni wing of the campaign and co-wrote the original alumni resolution in late 2012 and early 2013, and that I collaborated closely with the student organizers (it was always a student-led campaign), supporting them however I could, speaking and writing, risking arrest along side them multiple times in Harvard Yard. I was even briefly banned from campus along with three other alums (representing the College, Law School, Divinity School, and Kennedy School), following our peaceful protest during an appearance by President Drew Gilpin Faust at a large reunion event in Sanders Theater in May 2014. (You’ll be glad to know that I defied the ban, which was clearly intended to suppress speech, and won. I remain free to tread the hallowed paths and walk the hallowed halls of my dear alma mater.)
By the spring of 2016, I had concluded that Harvard is the Exxon of higher education, as I wrote in a piece for The Nation about conflicts of interest around industry funding within the Kennedy School. (Yes, I named names.) And I still stand by that assessment, even after yesterday’s clever announcement. I mean, even Exxon knows that its business model is incompatible with a habitable planet in the all-too-near future, and that it has to change — all while obstructing and delaying the kind of response that’s necessary. Sound familiar? Claiming to acknowledge — no, not only to acknowledge but to have helped discover — the brute scientific facts about our climate catastrophe, while delaying the necessary action for as long as possible. No wonder the Carbon Lobby loved to tout Drew Faust’s intransigent (and incoherent) opposition to divestment. They know a loyal ally when they see one. Or a loyal lackey. It’s the Harvard Corporation, of course, that hires Harvard presidents who will do its bidding. Now its bidding is to finally capitulate to the undeniable.
Yeah, so, anyway.
Here again is that speech I gave out in front of Mass Hall in 2013. It’s just one of many speeches and statements made by many people over the course of this long — and unfinished — campaign. I don’t claim to have said anything terribly original. (Some of the language did make it into my book two years later.) I guess I feel like sharing it now because, if nothing else, I’ll always be glad that I spoke those words, on that spot, in that moment, and that the administration heard them. The fight was worth it — even the burnout was worth it — and always would have been, regardless of the outcome.
As for my dear old alma mater, history will judge. In fact it already has.
p.s. please do share this post if you’re so inclined, especially with anyone you know who may be connected to the big bad H.