Is Harvard Broken?

The soul of the university is up for grabs as it faces questions about student life, PC culture, and how to manage its gazillion-dollar endowment.

Edited by Thomas Stackpole

Photograph by The Voorhes

As Lawrence Bacow prepares to take the reins from outgoing president Drew Gilpin Faust, the soul of the school is up for grabs, facing urgent questions about student social life, PC culture, and how to manage its gazillion-dollar endowment. To set the agenda, five prominent alums offer their visions for what Harvard needs to do to keep calling itself the most important university in the world.

→ Rick Smith, CEO and found of Axon, Class of 1991

→ Jay MathewsWashington Post education columnist, Class of 1967

→ Michelle Wu, Boston city councilor at large, Class of 2007

→  Harvey Mansfield, Harvard University professor of government, Class of 1953

→  Chloe Maxmin, cofounder of Divest Harvard, Class of 2015

The Price of Membership

Harvard can either kill its social clubs or respect its students’ rights—but it can’t do both.

Rick Smith, CEO and founder of Axon, Class of 1991

My sophomore year at Harvard, I did something that no one had done there since the 1930s: I started a fraternity. This hadn’t been my plan. But since entering Harvard the previous year, I’d been surprised by how hollow the social scene felt—despite the clubs, the events, and the high achievers, the campus still felt lonely. I tried to make the football team as a walk-on player and quickly discovered that this was not the sport for me. As my dreams of the Crimson gridiron slowly faded, my best friend from high school invited me to visit him at the University of Arizona, where he was rushing Sigma Chi. I arrived expecting Animal House yet found something far more shocking: an organization not unlike the Dead Poets Society, focused on giving young men who were away from home for the first time a sense of community. There was nothing like that at Harvard. So, in 1989, I decided to found it.

From the start, the college didn’t like my idea. I remember receiving a letter from the dean of students informing me that I couldn’t do this. Yet when we met, we were able to reach an understanding: As long as the fraternity members stayed off campus and didn’t use school grounds, we had the right and freedom to associate with whomever we chose during our personal time. For decades, that’s how it was. Now, however, everything has changed—and not for the better.

In 2016, Harvard decided to effectively end the exclusive, single-sex, off-campus clubs called final clubs, as well as sororities and fraternities not recognized by the school. Outgoing president Drew Gilpin Faust and the university’s fellowship of wise men decided they had the right to reach into the lives of adult students and tell them they could not choose to participate in these specific social organizations. The punishment for noncompliance? Any member of one of these single-sex groups would lose the opportunity to play on an athletic team, be a leader in any organization on campus, and receive the school’s endorsement for a postgraduate scholarship. In doing so, Harvard is tearing down some of the few institutions that really focus on building social relationships, thus destroying ties with alumni and, most important, violating what I feel are students’ basic rights.

As a graduate with the benefit of more than 20 years of post-collegiate perspective, I can see that it would have been catastrophic for my undergraduate experience had I been denied the ability to build relationships outside of random school dances run by the Harvard dorms. At Sigma Chi we worked together to challenge one another and formed lasting friendships; we sought people of different temperaments, talents, and convictions to make it an interesting and dynamic place. We were able to do that because we created a space where it was safe to be vulnerable. Both men and women have criticized Harvard’s decision to effectively outlaw social clubs, and I think it’s clear why: We all need supportive relationships, and in many cases, students want to hang out without the pressures of having both genders present. Without my social organization, I would have missed the best part of college: my friends.

To me, Harvard’s decision to strike down these groups is offensive and callous, but also dangerous. The school is sending the message: “If you want to come to Harvard, you give the college the authority to legislate your social life.” So far, this matter has mostly been discussed as a matter of privilege and culture, but it’s really a question of what we should see as students’ basic rights. If another entity—a company or a police department, say—tried to enforce policies that prohibit groups based on race, religion, or gender outside of work, people would rightfully object. Should constitutional rights to free speech and association not apply because someone is at Harvard? I see this as an egregious encroachment on personal and civil liberty, and I would be shocked if somebody didn’t challenge it in the courts. If I was 18 years old and had been accepted into Harvard, I’d be plaintiff number one.

The decision to ban these single-sex organizations is also shortsighted. For many alums, such as myself, such social clubs are the strongest connection we feel to the university. If you blow them up, it severs one of the most important links Harvard has with its alumni. Not only could it dramatically harm fundraising, but it will likely dissuade future grads from returning to school for any reason at all.

So, I ask incoming president Lawrence Bacow: Is Harvard going to be a truly liberal environment where we tolerate people of varying views? Or is it going to become intolerant toward individuals expressing views different from the college’s? If you are worried about unequal access to networking opportunities offered by the clubs, find ways to expand those opportunities rather than destroying them. If you’re concerned about alcohol abuse or sexual assault, start conversations and groups that can help build a better campus community rather than pushing student social clubs further away or trying to banish them.
Over the past few years, Harvard has chosen to use a very blunt instrument, and the administration’s overreach threatens the college’s culture of intellectual openness—the kind of challenging, thoughtful culture that I found in my chosen community at Sigma Chi. It closes the door on the rich learning and relationships that can be built outside of the classroom among groups of men and women who want to come together and work to build deep, meaningful bonds in a safe space. Finally, it changes how I feel about the school. If this is what the next president wants Harvard to become, then I, for one, wouldn’t want to send my kids there.

• • •

Unfinished Empire

Welcome to Harvard’s China campus.

Jay Mathews, Washington Post education columnist, Class of 1967

Much of Hangzhou is a blue-and-green dreamland near the East China Sea. Marco Polo called it “the City of Heaven.” The pagodas on West Lake are sublime, the history rich at the end of the ancient Grand Canal. Tourists love it, yet it is also a modern city of 6.8 million people, home to the e-commerce giant Alibaba. Think of it as China’s version of San Francisco.

It’s also a place that I think could change Harvard’s orientation to the world: It should be the location of the university’s first international campus, Harvard at Hangzhou. Harvard’s new president, Lawrence Bacow, must decide what it means to be Harvard in the 21st century. Branching out from the nestled comfort of Cambridge would be a gamble, but one that—without being too presumptuous—could open a new channel of communication between the world’s two most powerful countries, not to mention elevate Harvard to a new level of global prominence. In the end, the risks and required compromises would be worth it. Harvard is falling behind competitors such as Duke and NYU that already have footholds in China, from which they’re gaining much. Harvard should not waste the much bigger profile it now holds and be forced to play catch-up later on.

In recent years, the president of Harvard has reflected some sign of the times. In 2001, when Lawrence Summers took office, his ties to Washington as a former treasury secretary and his economic expertise seemed important. The appointment of Drew Gilpin Faust in 2007 gave the university its first woman president, a symbol of a new age of opportunity for all Americans. But the latest challenges to the U.S. are global, particularly the threat of war and economic disruption in Asia. Even if Bacow’s background doesn’t speak to this, his actions can.

The case for expanding Harvard to China transcends power politics. In the past two centuries China has been the Asian country closest to America in temperament and ambition. Those of us who have lived there see it pulsing with the energy and creativity the United States had when the first Yankee traders reached Canton in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. As my former Washington Post colleague John Pomfret shows in his recent book on the romance between the two nations, The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom, Americans and Chinese are often disappointed but always fascinated with each other. During a volatile period from the 1910s to the 1930s, for instance, “China enjoyed an unparalleled openness and freedom,” often through links to the United States, and the Chinese people produced “a whirlwind of institution building, research, investigation, and discovery” that was abetted by the countries’ ties, Pomfret writes. The future Communist Party chairman Mao Zedong complained in 1923 of his countrymen having “a superstitious faith in the United States.” He spent the next half-century trying to stamp it out, but he failed.

That connection has proved to be lasting. More than 300,000 Chinese are studying today in the U.S.; the two cultures share a love of cars, movies, and big business deals, and the personal friendships forged despite distrust between the governments show potential for peaceful progress, just like a century ago.

When Chinese people talk to Americans about the United States, Harvard has long been a big name, probably because so many American visitors to China and Chinese students in America have had Cambridge connections. When my wife and I, journalists living in Beijing during the 1970s and 1980s, said we had graduated from Hafo Daxue, eyes lit up. Xi Mingze, the daughter of Chinese President Xi Jinping, studied at Harvard, as did grandchildren of former top leaders Zhao Ziyang and Jiang Zemin. In 2000, a couple in the southwest province of Sichuan wrote a Chinese bestseller about raising their daughter: Harvard Girl, Liu Yiting: A True Chronicle of Quality Cultivation. It read much like Chinese-American author Amy Chua’s 2011 blockbuster in the United States, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.

So why should Harvard bother to take on this task if its stock is already so high? After all, like other elite U.S. colleges that reject at least 90 percent of applicants, Harvard has shown little interest in expanding its brand to other areas of the United States, even though its admissions officials acknowledge that many of the students they reject each year are just as qualified as the roughly 2,000 they accept. My dream of a Harvard campus in Santa Barbara for my California grandsons will likely never come true. But a Harvard offshoot in China would be very different. Unlike a Harvard Santa Barbara, which would dilute the university’s exclusivity, a Hangzhou campus would give the school bragging rights that it was shaping the thinking of the next generation of Chinese leaders and innovators at a crucial moment in their country’s leap into the new century.

None of this is to say it would be easy. A venture that brought Harvard’s brand of critical thinking and free discussion to Chinese students with instruction in their native language could change, or at least challenge, China’s ingrained educational culture and its commitment to rote memorization. The undergraduates at Harvard Hangzhou and their parents would presumably have to love the Hafo Daxue name enough to adjust. Moreover, allowing an American-style campus on its soil would be politically tricky for the Chinese government. Harvard Hangzhou administrators would have to restrict political demonstrations, as regular Chinese universities do, to make sure their campus doesn’t get shut down. The Communist Party has made moves to assert control over Duke’s and NYU’s English-speaking U.S. offshoots, so Harvard Hangzhou would need support from powerful Crimson parents and grandparents in Beijing. It would have to operate outside the political and social upheaval, just as visiting American and European experts and Chinese innovators did a century ago.

Will Harvard’s new president take such a leap? The timing seems right. Trade between the two countries, despite political complains about fairness, is at an all-time high. The two nations exchanged more than half a trillion dollars in merchandise in 2016. But more important, Bacow will soon be taking the reins of what purports to be the most important educational institution in the world, one that deserves brave leadership. This would be a stand for creative learning and thinking—a gesture toward how Harvard should define itself this century. Succeeding in China in any meaningful way would be a badge any educational institution, no matter how elite, should be proud to wear.

• • •

Love Thy Neighbor

Because good fences aren’t what the city and Harvard need right now.

Michelle Wu, Boston city councilor at large, Class of 2007

During my freshman year at Harvard, I fell in love with the view from the Red Line T as it crosses over the Longfellow Bridge—the city skyline rising above the leafy Esplanade and sparkling Charles River. I made the trip from Harvard Square to Chinatown every weekend to volunteer and to find my comfort foods. Later, as a Harvard Law student, I caught a glimpse of it almost daily, commuting from classes in Cambridge to life in Boston. Today, my heart still quickens at that panorama between the place that taught me to dream and the city that gave me a home.

Boston and Harvard share a centuries-long relationship: a city founded in 1630 for fairness and freedom; a university established six years later to seek the truth that sustains those ideals. For most of that time, the relationship has greatly benefited both partners and has been managed with a long view. The Arnold Arboretum, for instance, became part of Boston’s Emerald Necklace parks system through a 1,000-year lease that runs until 2882. But now, to extend and cement this partnership for centuries to come—and in a way that elevates all involved—the school and the city need to redouble their efforts to build a resilient, equitable community in Boston that will serve as a model for the world.

I entered Harvard Yard in 2003 devoted to Math Team, Latin Club, and the piano. No one on campus then would have predicted that I would end up in politics—not my professors, not my classmates or friends, and certainly not me. But my time there prepared me to embrace a future I didn’t know was possible.

In college, my 10-member “blocking group”—a self-selected band of students who enter the housing lottery together—hailed from all across the country and from many different areas of study. We gathered for Super Smash Bros., themed parties with good food, and the first political conversations I ever had. There was always an accomplishment to cheer and a goal to reach: getting published in a science journal, organizing an arts show, building a robot, mastering a technique to launch watermelon rinds off the Currier House balcony high enough to clear the roof. I could always find a companion for new adventures, and a team to tackle any challenge. I was exposed to a world of discovery and growth.

Later, Harvard Law School helped me refine inspiration into intention. I studied under the Socratic guidance of professors such as Elizabeth Warren and learned through internships that had me untangling permitting at Boston City Hall and advocating for domestic violence survivors at Boston Medical Center. Meanwhile, my roots outside of Harvard steadily deepened as Boston’s services and community helped me through the difficult family circumstances of raising my sister and caring for my mom. Ten years after arriving on campus, I was elected to the Boston City Council to serve the city that had become home.

Today, we face gaping racial disparities and economic inequality, exacerbated by eroding physical and social infrastructure and compounded by pressing climate change—we need to marshal every ounce of leadership we can to confront these problems. Just as cities are taking the lead on progressive policy in the face of federal retreat, we in Boston want to see Harvard match its national and international impact locally, too. Boston needs Harvard to continue increasing access to opportunity, not only for students, but also for the workforce and the community.

I would not have been able to attend Harvard without significant financial support from the school, and the number of students from modest backgrounds getting access to Harvard’s resources is growing. In this way, the university already supports upward mobility with an aggressive financial aid program; today, most students receiving financial aid contribute on average $12,000 annually for tuition. Let those numbers include more Boston kids who grow up seeing Harvard’s gleaming buildings around the city and who may stay in the city to serve the community. And expand access to opportunity not just for students, but also for university employees. Make a difference for families throughout the region as an employer that offers good working conditions and contracts, particularly for low-wage workers.

We also look to Harvard to serve as a peer institution in Boston’s higher education ecosystem. Collectively, just as our universities could tackle any research question, they could make Boston more welcoming for students. Imagine, for instance, a city-sponsored summer cultural immersion program for students enrolled at local universities who choose to stay in Boston for a summer internship, with special events showing off the city’s arts, food, culture, and fun. Not only would students feel more supported in their internships, but Boston would be more likely to retain their talent after graduation because of their affinity for the city. Joint efforts should also include peer pressure to participate in Boston’s Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program, which asks large, tax-exempt, nonprofit institutions to support city infrastructure and services through voluntary payments. As the wealthiest school in the world, it’s only fitting that Harvard should be a leader here.

Finally, the measure of Harvard’s leadership and stewardship in Boston may depend most on its new campus in Allston. Decisions on transit, housing, design, and development will define this neighborhood forever and mark Harvard’s transition to a home in Boston, where the university now owns more land than in Cambridge. As a neighbor and community member, Harvard should push for changes that will create a welcoming and vibrant place for students, professors, and Boston residents from every background. Now is the opportunity to plan ambitiously for the most inclusive vision of transportation and economic development. Harvard’s expertise and leverage can bring together agencies and advocates to embrace a long-term vision for access and equity.

A few decades from now, Harvard won’t be separated from Boston by a river. Let’s work to make that collective future inclusive and empowering, starting at home. It’s vital that we do the next hundred years right, together.

• • •


Political correctness is killing the college.

Harvey Mansfield, Harvard University professor of government, Class of 1953

Mine will be a mixed verdict on Drew Gilpin Faust, but I begin with a bow to the dignity she has maintained as Harvard’s first woman president, both personally and for the university. Her job, stated informally, has been to keep Harvard No. 1, and by the measure of getting the students it wants, Harvard remains the best and earns its prestige. She has made sure, with earnest fundraising, that the university gets the wealth appropriate to its status. And she has used that money both prudently and expansively, with improvements on the Cambridge side of the Charles and new buildings in Allston on the Boston side.

Unhappily, this is not the whole story; there is the question of the university’s reputation. Harvard has always been the subject of disrespectful jokes by envious rivals, but now it suffers from the mockery and denunciation of one of our political parties representing half of the electorate. Republicans don’t just make fun of Harvard; they don’t like it. Being one of these Republican strangers myself, yet anxious more for Harvard than for the party, I will state a view of the underside of Harvard’s prestige and Faust’s presidency. From a revered university, sure of itself yet aware of its place, Harvard has blundered into unreflective, partisan complacency—it has become the unquestioning agent of its left-liberal politics.

To her credit, Faust kept Harvard from the worst excesses of political correctness elsewhere, so far. One could detail her good deeds: her 2017 commencement speech on academic freedom, her deft response to Occupy Harvard leftists, her defense of free speech for the conservative scholar Charles Murray. But she has done nothing to address the stultifying political atmosphere, let alone reverse it. Under her, Harvard—unperceived by its own generally self-satisfied faculty and administration—has suffered steady decline. The college used to stand for truth above politics and willingly paid the price of appearing arrogant. Today, Harvard remains arrogant, but without elevation; it no longer knows or cares about anything above politics.

“Political correctness” is a tired epithet but, sadly, a stubborn fact in academia as universities, including Harvard, have adopted the identity politics of the left wing of the Democratic Party. They have convinced themselves that the pursuit of truth—Harvard’s motto is Veritas—requires them to promote what they call “change,” which means to politicize themselves. This “change” means favoring equality at the expense of all inequalities, including the natural ones of intelligence and character that define human excellence alongside accidental differences of race and income. Valuable inequalities between the sexes for which men and women are separately admired are submerged in the grim, sexless doctrine of gender neutrality. Is progress making people richer and safer, or is it making us better?

Some of this change has had unintended consequences. One measure taken to promote change is affirmative action, a euphemism for giving women and minorities a break. Of course, you cannot give someone a break if you call it a break. It must appear to be merited. The result at Harvard has been across-the-board grade inflation, which disguises the advantage being awarded to level the playing field. And while affirmative action was originally intended to make up for past injustices against black citizens and to enrich the communities, especially universities, from which they had been excluded, in practice, the chief beneficiaries have been women, mostly white women, with lower claims and fewer disadvantages. Whereas black candidates provide moral justification for the policy, women as a potential majority provide the numbers to demand it. Now, affirmative action has been superseded by another euphemism, “diversity,” a word, like “change,” that is usefully vague.

Diversity seems innocent because it claims to only recognize and liberate what is already there, not impose anything, but in fact it is a name for suppression and exclusion. What does it suppress? Debate. At Harvard there is no debate over the issues that animate our politics, such as abortion, same-sex marriage, national defense, income and other inequalities, and free speech—still less over those that should arise in the course of education and inquiry, like the meaning of “humanities” and the nature of morality. There are occasionally panels to discuss current topics, but they contain only Democrats. There are very, very few Republicans or conservatives at Harvard. This does not cause concern because it is said to be highly inappropriate to judge a person’s politics instead of his or her merit.

Yet why, then, is it appropriate to judge by race or sex? Why are so few members of one of our two political parties found to have merit? Diversity produces inevitable dilution of quality, and it excludes those not on the list of those preferred, namely, Republicans and conservatives; a “diversity” appointment is never anyone but a leftist. To my knowledge, Harvard did not appoint a single outspoken conservative to its faculty last year, a fact it professes neither to know nor care about.

The university’s commitment to a narrow diversity of official victims has eroded its appetite for honest debate, a loss resulting most obviously from the influence of feminism, the form of progressivism that now prevails at our universities. Feminists do not like to argue. They prefer to presume that women are the same as men and don’t want to contend with retrograde dissent in what they call a “new era” of Harvard. Men will be made to behave as women would like them—as sensitive males—and single-sex groups such as fraternities and sororities that seem to endorse the separate value of one’s sex have been or will be abolished.

This is the unworthy condition of Harvard to which Drew Gilpin Faust has lent her dignity. Her successor, Lawrence Bacow, should follow a policy of gradual amelioration rather than revolution, moving to reduce or render irrelevant the less defensible, more exposed outposts of political correctness. Certainly, he should proceed prudently to transform the Harvard Corporation from its monotone leftism to a responsible moderation that would not countenance the condition that it has unfortunately fostered. In its policies, ceremonies, and pronouncements Harvard should be mindful of its tradition, though not enslaved to it, and for heaven’s sake it should stop trying to be trendy. And since a university is not equipped to rule the world, and our American democracy doesn’t want that, Harvard should be content with inquiring and thinking, and stop wishing to change the world.

• • •

Dirty Money

When it comes to responsibly investing its $37 billion endowment, Harvard still has a lot to learn.

Chloe Maxmin, cofounder of Divest Harvard, Class of 2015

On February 12, 2015, I sat with 33 other Harvard students on the floor outside president Drew Gilpin Faust’s office in Massachusetts Hall. Together, we represented Divest Harvard, a campaign I cofounded that calls on the university to divest any holdings in fossil fuels from its $37.1 billion endowment. After two years of building a coalition of 70,000 supporters, we were sitting in the hall because Harvard’s administration was trying to ignore us. It was also trying to ignore the climate upheaval in the natural world. But perhaps most pointedly, the school’s leadership was staring at a chance to be a moral leader and saying, “No thanks.”

The message in the call for divestment is that no university, including Harvard, can sit on the sidelines while looming climate chaos threatens our near future and brings into question whether there will truly be one for my generation. This is truer today than ever as the Trump administration pursues a regressive path on climate change, abandoning America’s global commitments and promoting new drilling. But while Harvard chose shameful silence once, it does not have to again. As the university welcomes its new president, Lawrence Bacow, in the fall, it has a chance to learn from past failures and commit to acting as a beacon of sanity, rationality, and moral courage.

I helped launch Divest Harvard in the fall of 2012 with a total of three members. By the end of our first semester, we’d pioneered the first student vote on fossil fuel divestment. The results? A whopping 72 percent voted in favor.

Early on, we asked administration officials to join us in a public debate on divestment and climate change. When our request was ignored, we turned to civil disobedience. In the spring of 2014 we sat in freezing rain for 30 hours to blockade Massachusetts Hall, which culminated in the arrest of one of our members, Brett Roche. This helped our campaign go viral, and Divest Harvard surged with momentum.

Next, seven students sued Harvard for refusing to divest. We also organized Harvard Heat Week, a series of mass civil disobedience events that brought writer and activist Bill McKibben, Hollywood director Darren Aronofsky, Harvard Divinity School professor Cornel West, and hundreds of alumni to campus. McKibben called Heat Week “the largest climate change demonstrations in New England’s history.” We shut down Massachusetts Hall for almost six days and then launched another blockade when Harvard hired a former fossil fuel executive as its CFO later that semester. The administration tried to brush us off, but the move backfired and only antagonized students and publicly embarrassed the school.

What lessons can Harvard’s next president learn from the university’s failure to take a stand when it counts?

The first is that tone and transparency matter. After students voted overwhelmingly in favor of divestment, we met with members of the Harvard Corporation and Faust. Most meetings were behind closed doors and off the record. During the few on-the-record meetings, we could only take handwritten notes. Harvard’s insistence on private conversations meant we could never fully convey the lack of leadership that we experienced. On one occasion, Corporation member Nannerl Keohane told us we should thank the British oil and gas company BP for developing renewable energy rather than arguing for divestment, though BP had, ironically, withdrawn from the wind business just days before. The university’s financial support for an industry that we feel is endangering our future isn’t a trivial issue—we tried to have a reasonable discussion about it and were rudely rebuffed. How can Harvard claim to be a sanctuary for discourse and inquiry when it won’t engage with its students about an issue as important as climate change?

It’s important to remember that because of its status and wealth, people do pay attention to what Harvard does; the university is a leader whether it wants to be or not. Harvard’s privilege is a large megaphone, and as students, we wanted to use it to address a grave injustice. We wanted Harvard to pull its money from fossil fuels because if it did, others would be more likely to take the issue seriously and follow suit. There’s evidence to back this idea up: When Drexel University sociologist Robert Brulle asked what influences the public’s views on climate, one of his key findings revealed that people care more about things when they see them in the news or if rich, powerful institutions are talking about them. Just imagine the impact if Harvard divested and stood up to the fossil fuel industry!

While Harvard wields power and influence, respect isn’t guaranteed. The university not only squandered an opportunity for historic leadership; it also wasted its moral authority. Harvard’s refusal to engage on climate change has signaled that it’s acceptable to turn a blind eye to one of the greatest moral crises of our age. In spite of the near-constant drumbeat of reminders we receive as students about how Harvard is preparing us to become leaders, the university’s actions here show only the most hollow attachment to the morals it claims to hold dear. In October 2014, for instance, Faust gave a speech praising Georgia congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis’s idea of “necessary trouble.” She said, “You are here, and I am here, because of people in Harvard’s own imperfect past who were willing to get into necessary trouble. And so, we celebrate you.” A year later, when she found 34 students sitting in front of her office door demanding fossil fuel divestment, she told us that she was “sad” and “disappointed” that we were using “coercive tactics.” That moment will forever define my Harvard experience.

Still, there are reasons to hope. In April 2017 a Divest Harvard member confronted Colin Butterfield, head of natural resource investments for Harvard’s endowment, about fossil fuel divestment during a public event. Butterfield declared that his portion of the endowment does not directly invest in oil or gas. He said, “I clearly feel that we are stealing from future generations…we need to have more of these conversations.” This was the first time we saw evidence that our arguments are permeating Harvard’s halls of power.

During Bacow’s tenure, the university’s moral courage will be put to the test more than once. Divestment is hardly the only issue the university has to grapple with. The question is: How will Harvard respond? Will it hide behind a cloak of privilege and silence? Or will it blaze a trail for other universities to follow? If Divest Harvard can teach our new university president one thing, I hope it is this: Harvard’s intellectual prowess doesn’t insulate it from responsibility—it shoulders it with more.