FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

THE CAMPAIGN

General Questions

What are the overarching goals of Harvard Forward?


We want to establish Harvard as a moral and academic leader in the context of the climate crisis and give a voice to students and recent alumni within Harvard’s governance structures.




How does Harvard Forward plan to achieve these goals?


We will work to elect 5 recent alumni - John Beatty, Lisa Bi Huang, Margaret Purce, Thea Sebastian, and Jayson Toweh - to Harvard’s Board of Overseers in 2020 on a platform of climate action, responsible investing, and inclusive governance.




Why did Harvard Forward choose this tactic?


We believe that running a traditional organizing campaign will simultaneously boost turnout for the election and demonstrate to Harvard that the majority of the alumni body supports our platform. This is about more than any individual candidate; this is about building a movement and creating a mandate for change. Additionally, history gives hope for petition candidates’ influence on Harvard’s decision-making. In the late 1980s, a group called Harvard & Radcliffe Alumni/ae Against Apartheid (HRAAA) recruited and ran petition candidates to the Board of Overseers on a South African Divestment platform. They elected a handful of Overseers across several years, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu. After years of sustained pressure, the University decided to shift its investment guidelines.




How did Harvard Forward get started?


You can read our origin story and meet the team here.




How can I support Harvard Forward?






Other Harvard Efforts

Are Harvard Forward and Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard the same?


We are not Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard, but we are in frequent communication with them! Harvard Forward and Divest Harvard are part of a broad coalition of alumni and student groups that have the same goals: to move Harvard forward into a position of leadership in the fight against climate change and to grant a greater voice to students and young alumni. Divest Harvard does great work through on the ground activism, while we’re approaching the problem through Harvard’s system of elections. Both approaches are necessary, and we encourage alumni to sign the FFDH petition and get involved with their work.




Does Harvard Forward work with the Harvard Prison Divestment Campaign?


Members of HPDC provided input and feedback for our responsible investment platform. You can find our statement of support for the Harvard Prison Divestment Campaign on our platform page.




What other climate-focused efforts exist at Harvard?


There are many, ranging from on-campus initiatives to alumni Shared Interest Groups. You can read about some of them on the Harvard Climate Wiki.





Campaign Finance

How is Harvard Forward funded?


Harvard Forward was created by young alumni who are passionate about making Harvard the leader that it should be. We believe that many alumni share this goal and want to contribute to the cause, so after creating HF we began accepting grassroots donations to help accomplish our mission. Donations are made to our parent non-profit, The Boarding School 501(c)3. To date, we’ve received over 350 individual donations. The average donation is under $200, and the most popular donation amounts are $20.20 and $16.36.




What is The Boarding School?


The Boarding School is Harvard Forward’s parent non-profit. The same alumni that started HF founded TBS in partnership with two Young Alumni Trustees on the Princeton Board. Beyond Harvard Forward, TBS is developing educational materials and offerings for current and prospective young trustees who serve on boards of universities, foundations, and other companies and organizations. Harvard Forward was the first TBS project and was followed by the launch of Yale Forward. Over the coming years, TBS hopes to continue supporting similar efforts that help young people shape the institutions that impact their lives.




What does Harvard Forward use donations for? How much has HF spent?


Harvard Forward uses donations to cover our campaign operations costs. During the pre-election period, this included:

  • Shipping physical petition forms around the world, especially before and after Global Networking Night (an expense that was necessary as the online form was nearly impossible to use);
  • Limited campaign travel (flights/trains/hotels/food costs) for candidates and organizers prior to the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • Volunteer campaign meet-ups around the country and world previous to the pandemic;
  • Weekly payments for our field director (our only paid organizer pre-election);
  • Our website, email server, Mailchimp, and database;
  • Printing and mailing of business cards and other campaign materials;
  • Digital ads on Facebook to alert alumni to the existence of Harvard Forward.
To learn more about our pre-election expenditures, visit this page. Since the start of the election on July 1st, our costs have included:
  • Campaing infrastructure (website, email server, Mailchimp, etc);
  • Stipends for two summer fellows (our only paid organizers during the election);
  • Digital ads on Facebook to alert alumni to get out the vote.
To learn more about our election expenditures, visit this page. Donors interested in our broader mission have made donations that have been used to help launch The Boarding School and Yale Forward.





THE BOARD OF OVERSEERS & THE ELECTION

What is the Harvard Board of Overseers, and what does the Board do?


The Board of Overseers is Harvard’s highest democratically-elected board. It consists of 30 alumni who serve six-year terms. Five new Overseers are elected each year. According to Harvard’s website, "The Board of Overseers exerts broad influence over the University's strategic directions, provides essential counsel to the University’s leadership on priorities and plans, and has the power of consent to certain actions such as the election of Corporation members." You can read more about the board here.




How do candidates get on the ballot?


Every year, the Harvard Alumni Association nominates eight candidates to the ballot. Alumni can also qualify for the ballot by gathering the requisite number of signatures from fellow alumni by February 1st; this year, that number was 2,936. Our five candidates each gathered close to 5,000 signatures to qualify.




When is the Board of Overseers election in 2020 and how do I vote?


The 2020 election was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Voting now runs from July 1st through August 18th. Voting can be conducted via paper ballot, which will be mailed to all alumni by Harvard, or via individualized voting link, which will be sent by the HAA through email.




How is Harvard Forward going to achieve the goals of the platform with only five of 30 seats on the Board of Overseers?


While five out of 30 is far from a majority, having voices in the room who are advocating for greater climate action will be impactful. You can imagine that if the Board is naming a new President or Corporation member, it's key to have Overseers in the room asking,"What's your plan to have Harvard take more significant climate action?" This is just one of the ways in which our candidates can work to make climate action a strategic priority for Harvard once they're elected. Outside of their official capacities, Overseers also have more direct access to institutional power players and greater leverage than the average alum when it comes to advocating for issues. And if Harvard Forward continues to be active in the coming years, we may eventually have a majority on the Board who support climate action. More than anything, the act of electing Harvard Forward candidates sends a clear message that alumni care about these issues so Havard should take action.




But the Board doesn’t directly control the endowment, so why does it make sense to have pro-divestment Overseers?


It's true that the Overseers do not directly control the endowment. However, the Overseers do have the power to consent to the appointment of new Corporation members. This ability to advise and consent can be leveraged to make divestment a priority for the Harvard Management Corporation. More importantly, if we can mobilize thousands of alumni to vote in this election and get our candidates on the Board, it creates a mandate. Essentially, we're putting climate action up for a referendum on the ballot. Showing that a large number of alumni care about this cause and are demanding action will create a mandate for those in power to take action. Additionally, Harvard Forward is about more than just divesting the endowment from fossil fuels. We are also trying to make climate education and research more of a priority at Harvard. Here, the Board of Overseers can more directly exert influence, through such things as the visitation process. We should be asking every school and department how they are incorporating climate into their curriculum and how they're providing opportunities and resources for students and faculty to focus on climate-related topics.




Shouldn’t candidates for the Board not be “single-issue” candidates?


Our candidates are not single-issue candidates! They are running on a platform of climate action, responsible investing, and greater inclusion of recent alumni and student voices. These are three topics we feel need to be prioritized to maintain Harvard’s excellence and position as world leader. While all of our candidates are dedicated to enacting the Harvard Forward platform because they believe it’s in the best interest of the University to do so, they are also exceptionally intelligent, informed, driven people with a deep passion for making sure Harvard continues to be a world leader and a standard for excellence. Our five candidates come from diverse backgrounds and experiences and reflect the diversity of the alumni community, particularly the more recent generations. They will thoughtfully and ably perform all Overseer responsibilities and will bring fresh perspectives to the Board that will benefit all.





THE PLATFORM

FF Divestment

Why focus on fossil fuel divestment? What about other environmentally damaging investments?


While our platform focuses on divestment from fossil fuels, we think Harvard should take a holistic look at how ethical considerations should play a role in the management of the endowment; that is why we’re proposing a new reporting structure for the Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility. Read more in our platform or the FAQ section on Socially Responsible Investing.




Don’t we just need to [insert other climate-positive action]?


Divestment doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive with any other steps taken to battle the climate crisis. The University can afford to be a climate leader through divestment AND marshal its academic, research, and lobbying efforts toward fighting the climate crisis as well.




Isn’t divestment a bit drastic?


The effects of climate change are serious and unmistakable – mitigating them will require resolute responses, and the fastest path to a decarbonized economy is to stop investing our money in the fossil fuel industry. Scientists have issued clear and dire warnings, including last autumn’s report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that stated we will face serious consequences from anthropogenic climate change and that these consequences will be even more catastrophic if we do not make dramatic shifts in how we power the planet (i.e. moving away from fossil fuels) within the next decade.




Does divestment from fossil fuels have a real impact?


The symbolic power of universities leading the way forward is immensely valuable and inspirational. Universities have historically fomented positive social change, serving as ground zero for student-led initiatives to protect free speech, end the Vietnam War, and protest apartheid. In particular, Harvard’s symbolic power as an institution of leadership in higher learning is unparalleled, so even “symbolic” gestures go a long way in influencing others to act. But we believe that divestment is not merely symbolic. It can spark a domino effect, where universities, investment funds, banks, and other financial stakeholders use the influence and impact of their capital to chart a course toward a sustainable future. Divestment from apartheid-era South Africa had real impacts, and financial pressure as a potential tool for justice should not be understated.




Isn’t it really complicated to divest?


Divestment is not an unprecedented action, and there are plenty of models to follow. One such example is the University of California school system, which in 2019 divested their entire endowment and pension fund (total around $80 billion) in a short time-span. Investment funds regularly reshuffle their investments, exiting industries as time allows. Besides, with the very future of the planet at stake, we cannot afford to stall simply because it will be “complicated” to divest.




Who else is divesting from fossil fuels?


Over 1100 institutions around the world have committed to divestment, representing $12 trillion in assets. Major examples include the European Investment Bank, the Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund, Brown, the UC school system, Cornell, Middlebury, Georgetown, New York City, and Ireland, among others.




Is divestment going to hurt Harvard’s finances?


There is growing evidence that fossil fuels are not necessarily great investments. The price of renewable energy has decreased so steeply over the last decade that renewable energy is now the cheapest way to generate electricity in most of the world. Due to this trend, the fossil fuel sector has underperformed clean energy investments in the market in recent years, meaning that fossil fuel investors have lost significant amounts of money and stand to lose even more the longer they take to divest. In fact, when the UC system announced its decision to divest, the schools’ chief investment officer explained that their reasons for divesting were chiefly financial. The opacity of Harvard’s holdings makes it impossible to judge how much money the University has foregone. But, for example, New York State’s $200 billion pension fund would have earned close to an additional $20,000 per retiree had it divested from fossil fuels in 2008. Finally, the long-term negative costs for the planet of continued investment in fossil fuels far outweigh any potential immediate benefits we might reap from an environmentally harmful investment policy. Since we released our platform, more evidence that the tide is turning on fossil fuel investments has come to light: The Intentional Endowments Network released a study showing that universities and college who have adopted sustainable investment measure haven’t suffered financially, and the CEO of BlackRock, which is the world’s largest asset manager, recently published a letter about climate risk requiring a “fundamental reshaping of finance.”




But aren’t fossil fuel companies doing renewable energy research?


While fossil fuel companies tout their investment in renewable energy technologies, the $3 billion that U.S. oil companies have put into renewables over the past five years is a tiny fraction of the $77 billion total investment in renewables in the U.S. over the past two years. These $3 billion appear even more insignificant when compared with the annual profits of these companies: in 2014 alone, publicly-traded fossil fuel companies operating in the U.S. and Canada made a total profit of $257 billion. Furthermore, we cannot rely on partners who are not acting in good faith. We know that oil companies understood the catastrophic effects of climate change decades ago. Exxon, for instance, began building its drilling rigs to compensate for a rise in sea levels they knew was coming. Rather than releasing this information to the public, they spent billions over three decades building an architecture of deceit, denial, and disinformation designed to keep us in the dark about the harm they were causing in order to increase their profits. The willingness of the fossil fuel industry to lie about these facts is an act of intellectual dishonesty that, performed by a Harvard student or professor, would get them suspended, expelled, or fired and flies in the face of the University’s motto: Veritas. Indeed, these companies were intentionally sowing public doubt and denial of the very science Harvard’s professors were seeking to defend.




What about constructive engagement with companies as shareholders?


Harvard actually does not have the ability to vote directly on shareholder resolutions in most cases, given that most of the University’s investments are in commingled funds and managed by outside investment firms, meaning Harvard does not directly own an individual company’s stocks. The most efficient way to influence these companies is to revoke their social license to continue their environmentally harmful practices by divesting and publicly stating that we will not support their activities with our money.




Is it hypocritical to divest from supply-side fossil fuels while Harvard still relies on fossil fuels?


While it is true that current societal systems make it implausible to go without fossil fuels on an individual scale in the short term, the fact that fossil fuels are an entrenched institution cannot serve to protect the industry from ethical pressure. For one, the impact that any individual can have on the climate crisis is heavily constrained by the systems and infrastructures we operate in. That is why, given the extent to which our lives are entangled with fossil fuels, we have a responsibility to advocate for and support large-scale, structural, and collective decarbonization efforts in every way possible. Perhaps one could say it would be hypocritical only to divest, without adjusting our behavior in any other way, but Harvard itself has already made commitments to lessen, and ultimately eliminate, its reliance on fossil fuels over the next three decades. Therefore, not only is divestment not in opposition to the University’s consumer-side goals—it is in perfect harmony. Finally, our platform offers many steps that we can take as a University and community to confront the climate crisis at various levels.




Is it Harvard’s job to confront the climate crisis?


As it becomes clear that no governments will act with the decisiveness required to meet this challenge, there is an increasing need for non-governmental entities to lead, and many institutions have done so. Harvard should not fear being alone in taking a stand; in fact, it should fear being left behind. From universities around the world, including the entire University of California system, to world financial centers like New York and London, to the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund (the largest single pool of investment capital in the world), over $11 trillion in endowments and portfolios have moved to divest from fossil fuels. Harvard’s name and the sociopolitical weight it carries as the most globally recognized and respected institution of higher learning provides the University a unique platform to assume a stance of indisputable moral leadership in the context of the climate crisis. If we wish to continue attracting the brightest students, researchers, and faculty, we must establish ourselves as indisputable leaders in this space.




Aren’t carbon dividends a better way to regulate fossil fuels than divestment?


Ultimately, it’s not Harvard’s job to implement a carbon dividend; that would be a government policy. However, it is Harvard’s job to decide how to use their own endowment. There is also nothing about divestment that is incompatible with carbon dividends – in fact, divestment is simply a free-market decision to move capital away from fossil fuels.




What about Harvard's 2050 net-zero pledge?


Harvard's pledge to make the endowment greenhouse-gas neutral by 2050 is inexcusably insufficient. It leaves many loopholes for inaction, such as not requiring divestment from the fossil fuel industry, and the 2050 timeline is not urgent enough. Especially given that many of our peer institutions have committed to doing more and doing it sooner, Harvard's pledge is far from adequate. Read more in the response letter from Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard.





Socially Responsible Investment

What about divestment from prisons?


If the processes we follow are the right processes, then we’re confident that putting the issue of prison divestment through the restructured Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility will yield the right results. Our candidates are on the record saying that they “personally believe that Harvard University should not invest in companies that financially profit off of the prison-industrial complex.”




Doesn’t the Harvard Management Company already have Shareholder Responsibility committees?


The ACSR and CCSR are very opaque, and neither have been very responsive to the ethical concerns raised by students and alumni.




What does the current ACSR do?


A group of students, faculty, and alumni serve on an advisory committee to pass on recommendations to the CCSR. However, due to the lack of transparency and efficacy in pushing Harvard to ethically divest, more oversight is clearly needed.




Is this about ESG (environmental, social, governance)?


ESG may provide a useful framework and foundation for ethical investments, but Harvard can not rely solely on watered-down ESG conventions; we must lead in the development of new ethical investment guidelines.





Climate Research & Education

Given that Harvard is already conducting climate research, why do we need more?


Harvard is not a place that settles for doing “just enough.” We need to be the indisputable leader in climate research and education.




Given that Harvard is already conducting climate research, shouldn’t we invest more money in other areas?


Solving any other societal problem is contingent on having a livable planet, and the climate crisis will exacerbate almost any problem in any facet of society. Smart money is on finding ways to prevent or minimize the effect of climate change.





Recent Alumni Overseers

Why would we want recent alumni on the board? Do they have enough experience?


When we say we value diversity of perspectives and opinions, we often forget one of the most important perspectives at Harvard: current students. If the Board is advising on decisions that will impact the student body, they can’t make the most fully-informed decision without considering the perspective of the student body. As a result, we believe that it’s important to have a balance of voices; it’s crucial to have those who will bring experience as recent students to the board in addition to those who will bring years of expertise in finance, academia, government, and other areas.




Isn’t the purpose of the Board of Overseers to take care of the institution rather than cater to its students?


Taking care of the institution means taking care of the institution’s most valuable assets: its current and future students. The Board would be better equipped in its mission of looking after the University’s long-term future by including more perspectives of those who were recently on campus and know what the issues that matter most to current students are.




Why reserve six Recent Alumni Overseers spots?


It boils down to math—Overseer terms are six years, so we want one Recent Alumni Overseer to step in and one to step out every year so that this process works in lockstep with the regular election cycle.




Do other schools do this?


Yes! Many schools have provisions to include recent alumni or current students in their governing bodies. We are particularly inspired by our peers at Princeton and Cornell who instituted inclusive governance practices in 1969.





Overview

Where can I read about your platform?


You can read the full, multi-page pdfs of our policy proposals here.




Why propose a two-pronged platform? Can’t we have climate action without inclusive governance (and vice versa)?


Harvard has a responsibility to provide an exceptional learning environment to its current and future students. In order to truly fulfill that responsibility, it must be a leader in the effort to protect the planet from the climate crisis and give a voice to those who can speak to current students’ experiences. Decisions made about climate issues now directly affect younger generations in the future, so it's necessary that their voices are included in the conversations and decisions happening today.




But don’t people across all generations care about the climate crisis?


Yes! Harvard Forward is powered by alumni from all generations, with supporters who graduated in every decade since the 1940s. At the same time, younger generations have a particularly strong stake in the climate crisis, given that they will have to bear the brunt of its impacts. Recent alumni are also traditionally underrepresented in Havard’s governance—on average, the current Overseers got their last Harvard degree almost 30 years ago. We think that by including more recent alumni within Harvard’s decision-making bodies, we can make sure that the issues that matter most on campus today are being appropriately responded to by the University.





Have a question we didn’t answer?

Reach out to comms@harvardforward.org.