Students sue Harvard over fossil-fuel investments

A group of seven Harvard University students filed a lawsuit Wednesday against Harvard University President Drew Faust, fellows of Harvard Corp., Harvard Management Co. and Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley demanding the Cambridge, Mass.-based university divest all of its holdings in fossil-fuel companies, said Joseph E. Hamilton, one of the plaintiffs.

The complaint, filed in a Suffolk County court in Boston, alleges that, by continuing to invest in fossil fuels, the defendants are violating their duties as a public charity violating Harvard's original charter.

“Harvard Management Co. is a non-profit corporation and public charity organized under the laws of Massachusetts,” said the complaint. “Harvard Corp., as a non-profit corporation organized for educational purposes and as a public charity bound by the purposes enumerated in its charter, has a duty to promote 'the advancement and education of youth' and to maintain its physical campus for the well-being of its students.”

“Given the intransigence (Harvard) has shown towards student movement, we realized it was time to try different methods to further the divestment campaign,” said Mr. Hamilton in a phone interview.

HMC spokesman Lex Suvanto said the company takes direction from the university on these matters and deferred questions to Ms. Faust's office.

A spokesman for Ms. Faust provided the following statement: “Climate change poses a serious threat to our planet. We agree that threat must be confronted, but sometimes differ on the means. Harvard has been, and continues to be, focused on supporting the research and teaching that will ultimately create the solutions to this challenge. If the students intend to file such a lawsuit, we expect that a court will need to consider the legal basis of their complaint.”

The full complaint is available online.