“Blood money,” they’re calling it, and it’s a lot of blood—a total of $79.5 million that Harvard ploughed into oil and gas companies during the third quarter of 2015. That’s up by about a factor of seven from a previous $11.8 million invested, according to campus activists who analyzed Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings. Those investments include dollars sent to companies involved in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and natural gas fracking. It’s business as usual for the university—the wealthiest in the world—except for the fact that Harvard is due to appear in court next month to defend itself against a suit brought by seven student activists from the Harvard Climate Justice Coalition.
The lawsuit argues that Harvard, by investing in companies that contribute to climate change, is going against its charter, which speaks of working toward “the advancement and education of youth.” Harvard, in a request to dismiss the case, counters that students don’t have a right to sue on behalf of future generations.
Meanwhile, five faculty members have circulated a petition comparing the university unfavorably to institutions like Stanford that have pledged to divest from coal companies. “Can putting tens of millions in companies like Anadarko be regarded as responsible sustainable investing—investing that befits a charitable corporation dedicated to scientific truth and ethical education?” the petition reads. “Such investments… signify an investment policy that is profoundly indifferent to its consequences.”
Anadarko Petroleum, the recipient of the bulk of Harvard’s $79.5 million, contributed to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill and agreed last year to pay a hefty $5 billion fine for tainting thousands of sites all over the country with hazardous waste. Harvard has funneled $57.4 million to them. And it’s still possible the university’s fossil fuel investments might be even greater, since Harvard’s endowment clocks in at $34 billion—most of which is not in direct investments, and therefore was left out of the SEC analysis.
Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust stated in 2013 that the endowment is “not an instrument to impel social or political change.” So it doesn’t sound like she’s changed her tune.