Several Harvard University students have plans to file a lawsuit to force the university to withdraw its investment funds from companies that profit from the prison industry.
The group of students requests a judge to require the university to divest its $40 billion endowment from prisons and related companies, and to produce a report outlining its direct and indirect investments in the industry.
The students also claim the university is violating its fiduciary duty and breaching its charter and falsely advertising itself as an institution that wants to redress the harms of slavery, while still benefiting from the prison system.
“Instead of helping to dismantle the entanglement of profiteering, government interests, and the system of human caging, Harvard makes profit off of it,” the plaintiffs wrote in their complaint. “That money funds the opulent lifestyles of Harvard’s top administrators who are prison profiteers.”
The plaintiffs aren’t just students. They all have donated money to the school in the past year.
“Our standing now is based on the premise that we’re donors to the university,” Xitlalli Alvarez, a plaintiff and a doctoral student in anthropology, said.
“This is one way to hold Harvard’s feet to the fire,” Alvarez added.
A spokesman for university President Lawrence S. Bacow, who is named in the suit, told NBC News last year that Bacow has “appreciated the opportunity to meet with advocates for prison divestment” and tried to schedule a meeting for them with the Harvard committee that makes endowment decisions.
A meeting like that occurred in October and included Bacow. However, the students alleged that the committee wouldn’t provide an “exposure assessment” of the endowment’s investments in prison related companies and didn’t specify whether divestment was even on the table.
The students said that Bacow told them last year that the school’s prison-related investments are only $18,000. However, according to a review of the one percent of the school’s endowment invested in public holdings, the figure is at least $3 million.
Ted Hamilton, who was one of the Harvard students who sued the university for fossil fuels in 2014, said he supports the current lawsuit.
Hamilton said that by suing the school, “you make them articulate and defend their position in a different forum.”