Yesterday evening members of the Harvard Prison Divestment Campaign (HPDC) walked out of their meeting with the Harvard endowment.
HPDC met with President Lawrence Bacow, Senior Fellow at the Harvard Corporation William Lee, and members of the Corporation Committee on Shareholder Responsibility (CCSR), which handles issues divestment, on Monday night, October 28, 2019. After opening statements laying out the moral and financial arguments for divestment, organizers asked CCSR members, “Are you open to considering the possibility of divestment?” Bill Lee, who chaired the meeting on behalf of President Bacow and the CCSR, refused to answer the question.
HPDC organizers asked repeatedly, stating that the meeting would have little value if the committee was not open to considering divestment. The committee again refused to answer. HPDC organizers asked the committee about the formal processes they took to arrive at their decision. The committee refused to specify. HPDC organizers asked the committee if they were open to asking external fund managers to report on their holdings in the prison-industrial complex. The committee stated that they could not “promise anything.” After stating that the campaign would be open to meeting when the committee was open to considering divestment, HPDC organizers left the meeting.
“It was troubling to see that President Bacow offered this meeting, but never intended to take the issue seriously,” said organizer Joanna Anyanwu. “It is clear that they wanted us to seem reasonable by taking this meeting, but they never planned to really consider the implications of our research.”
The committee’s refusal to state that they were open to considering divestment indicates that their offer to meet was fundamentally unserious and intended only to give the impression of good-faith negotiations to the public.
“This meeting was nothing but a PR trick,” said Ismail Buffins, Campaign organizer and third-year Divinity student. “Harvard gets to look good by meeting with us. But of course, they’ll just dangle the carrot on the stick forever and ever.”
The Harvard Prison Divestment Campaign remains committed to pursuing prison divestment. The campaign will be happy to meet and talk with President Bacow, Senior Fellow Lee, and the CCSR when they are open to considering divestment.