Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is going on in Sudan?
In the last two years, the Government of Sudan and its militias have engaged in a campaign to purge the Western States of Darfur of the “Zurgha” groups, the ethnic communities considered “black”. Campaigns have taken the form of aerial bombings, dawn raids on villages, poisoning of wells and driving people into the desert. Reports estimate that between 70,000 and 330,000 men women and children have been killed; Two million have been internally displaced, and tens of thousands of women have been raped and mutilated. Pulitzer Prize winning author Samantha Power reported on these tragedies first hand.
To sustain its genocidal program, the government-sponsored organizers train militias, airlift supplies, move forces around, and acquire helicopter gun ships – all significant expenses that require substantial financing. This financing has come primarily in the form of oil revenue and trading with various international companies. In 1998, the US imposed sanctions on Sudan and prohibited any direct involvement on the part of US companies.
Nevertheless, American funds still find their way into Sudan through various international companies that trade with the regime and source their funds in the US. PetroChina is one of those companies, and is one of Khartoum’s principal revenue generators.
In the last quarter (September to December of 2004), despite a prominent October report in The Harvard Crimson detailing PetroChina’s involvement in Sudan and subsequent calls for divestment, Harvard actually doubled its investment in PetroChina, despite the continuing genocide and the escalation of public awareness.
We take pride in our University and its history and future as a global leader in intellectual, social, and humanitarian achievement. As current students, we also recognize the superior education and opportunities afforded to us by Harvard. As future alumni, we remain committed to ensuring these gifts for future generations of students and to supporting the moral and academic leadership of the University with our hearts, our minds, and our financial resources.
Our investments in PetroChina not only give implicit approval to their relationship to the Sudanese government. That relationship helps maintain the government’s financial viability, and therefore, its campaign to eliminate an entire ethnic group of non-Arab Africans. Publicly divesting sends a message to PetroChina and the world that there is a price to pay for complicity in genocide. Moreover, the divestment of arguably the world’s most prestigious educational institution and America’s oldest corporation would lend an important voice to the growing chorus of dissent that is ringing out against the international community’s inaction in the face of the atrocity of Genocide.
As reported by Agence France Presse on October 25, 2004, PetroChina is now in the process of officially acquiring all of the southern Sudan assets of its parent company, the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), one of the largest oil companies operating in Sudan. Furthermore, alleged financial “firewalls” between PetroChina and CNPC’s oil operations in Sudan have proved to be nothing more than a shell game, as PetroChina has absorbed over $15 billion of CNPC’s debts incurred partially by their operations in Sudan. (For the full story on the relationship between PetroChina and Sudan, please read this Human Rights Watch report.)
The purpose of the Senior Gift is to unite the senior class to give something back to Harvard. The Senior Gift is an important way for seniors to show their appreciation and support for the university, and it is a great way to get the whole class working together on a common goal before we graduate. It also gets us into the habit of giving, which is crucial for Harvard’s continued success.
Although the Senior Gift is a fundraising activity, it is far more important as a symbol than as an actual financial contribution to Harvard. The average total Senior Gift raised since 1991 is $38,878. Last year, $34,944 was raised. While $38,878 is a lot of money to your average college student, it is less than a year’s tuition. Harvard scholarship aid amounts to about $80 million per year. Even if the entire Senior Gift went to financial aid (which is not the case), it would only amount to 0.05% of the total aid available. Furthermore, the Senior Gift committee measures success based on the percent participation, not on the amount raised. For instance, the House competitions are done by participation.
Since the senior gift is symbolic, it ought to be treated as a symbol. In this case, Senior Gift provides a great way to make a statement to the University that the senior class disapproves of the University’s holdings in PetroChina. There are few other opportunities for the whole class to unite and send such a strong message.
It’s not that we hate Harvard or think it is an evil institution. We also don’t want to undermine the Senior Gift campaign or the people working on it. Instead, we want to use the Senior Gift not only to show our financial support for Harvard, but also to send it a message. We want to take advantage of this chance to make a statement to tell Harvard that we cannot, in good conscience, encourage unconditional donations to the university until it divests from companies that contribute to the genocide in Sudan. Donating money should denote a secure satisfaction with the practices of the university. At this specific moment in time, with Harvard not only refusing to divest, but also doubling the investment in question, we are not convinced that the university has its priorities in the right place.
One of the most important things that Harvard must stand for is justice and moral responsibility. Education is meaningless if it is divorced from responsible citizenship. We are required to take courses in Moral Reasoning classes so that we can think about moral issues in an intelligent and reasoned way. If Harvard chooses to pursue immoral ways of earning money, we have a responsibility to urge Harvard's investment team to divest.
Harvard's first-rate educational programs and research activities depend in large part on the strength of the outstanding reputation that the University has cultivated over nearly 400 years.
Our community of faculty, students, and staff strives for excellence in all areas, and seeks to apply our scholarly endeavors to the benefit of humanity in the nation, and at large. To the extent that Harvard's material involvement -- however direct or indirect -- contributes to or sustains the genocide in Sudan, it is a blemish upon the entire University character, and an impediment to its good works.
Divesting would free us of a significant distraction, free us of this moral liability, and reaffirm the University’s uncompromising commitment to and regard for human life.
Moreover, if the university responds to this call for divestment from the student body, it will clearly and unambiguously demonstrate that Harvard is willing to listen to the concerns of its undergraduate students and respond to global crises in a timely and responsible fashion.
As Crimson columnist Samuel Simon argues: “The Senior Gift produces roughly $30,000 a year, roughly 0.05% of the Harvard College Fund that the Gift goes into. That’s nowhere near enough money to make any real difference in the amount of financial aid we receive. What those who make this argument understand is that student giving has an influence on alumni giving…But even if fundraising falls, Harvard students won’t automatically receive less financial aid. Harvard would have to decide whether or not to cut financial aid programs as a response to the drop in fundraising, and it alone would bear the responsibility for that decision. Furthermore, Harvard has no incentive to cut financial aid—which keeps the University competitive among its peer institutions—first. We have no reason to think Harvard wouldn’t find some source of money to make up for a lull in donations.”
Yes, strong precedent exists for divestment from countries that violate human rights. During the 1970s and 80s Harvard divested millions of dollars from corporations that operated in apartheid South Africa. Furthermore, Yale President Richard Levin had called for the divestment of Yale’s endowment from Sudan as early as 2002. In addition to the divestment movement at Harvard and numerous other university campuses, six states – including Massachusetts – have introduced bills in their state legislatures to divest public pension funds from companies that conduct business with the Sudanese government.
Harvard’s divestment from South Africa hastened the downfall of the apartheid regime by increasing economic and political pressure against the racist system. Divestment from Sudan can accomplish similar results and help ensure freedom and security for people now targeted for genocide.
Contributions to Senior Gift Plus (SGP) will be held in an escrow account at the Harvard Square branch of Bank of America. The account requires a double signature for any release of funds and is managed by Dan Weissman (Chief Financial Officer of SGP). Seniors can choose to designate their donation either to the Unrestricted Fund or to Financial Aid. If Harvard divests from its PetroChina holdings before October 25, 2005 (exactly one year from the date of The Crimson's report on Harvard’s investment in PetroChina) the money in the account would be turned over to the Harvard College Fund as designated by seniors. If Harvard does not divest by that date, the money in the account would be donated as a gift to the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Kennedy School. The Carr Center for Human Rights Policy is actively involved in the application of research to the solution of public policy problems. It leads public policy debate and trains human rights leaders--partnering with governments, corporations, and the military--to achieve solutions to humanitarian crises. This way, we are still giving to Harvard, but giving to the part that lives up to everything we hope the entire university could be.
For more information on the Carr Center please visit their website at www.ksg.harvard.edu/cchrp/index.shtml.
Senior Gift Plus is a small business registered with the City of Cambridge. The website will remain intact, as will the executive committee. We are currently seeking faculty members to oversee our efforts and, as you can see from our executive committee list, we have enlisted underclass students to help us administer the program.
1. Immediately divest all holdings in PetroChina
Corporation members James R. Houghton (firstname.lastname@example.org), Conrad K. Harper and Robert D. Reischauer, who comprise the Corporation Committee on Shareholder Responsibility (CCSR).