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New VP will scrutinize Harvard’s investments

$30.7b endowment has faced calls to use its clout to do good

Harvard University, which often faces pressure from students and alumni to shed controversial investments, has agreed to create a senior position at its investment management arm to consider the environmental, social, and corporate governance aspects of its holdings.

Harvard Management Co. recently began searching for a vice president for “sustainable investing,” a relatively novel position in the world of university endowments.

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“We think this is a positive step,” said Harvard College senior Michael Danto, one of the leaders of Responsible Investment at Harvard, which has pushed Harvard to adopt policies to ensure its investments are consistent with the university’s values.

“But this is not going to solve all the questions addressing the social consequences for Harvard’s portfolio,” he said.

Harvard has occasionally given in to pressure to sell controversial holdings. For instance, it promised to sell stock in PetroChina in 2005 because of concerns about the company’s links to the Sudanese government, which was blamed for human rights violations in Darfur.

But Harvard Management usually emphasizes that its main mission is to produce strong investment returns.

In December, it rejected calls to stop investing in companies that produce oil and other fossil fuels. Harvard’s endowment was valued at $30.7 billion as of June.

The new executive will consider how the investment unit currently takes into account social and other concerns and suggest improvements, according to the job posting. The person will also serve as Harvard’s representative on the issues at campus and public forums.

Many universities have advisory committees and working groups to consider when to divest investments, but it’s unusual to have a senior investment officer dedicated to that.

In a statement, Harvard Management’s president, Jane L. Mendillo, said the position will help it strengthen its focus on the issues.

“We are long-term investors, and that means we are concerned with sustainability and stewardship,” Mendillo said.

Todd Wallack can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @twallack.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the company stock that Harvard University sold because of concerns about the company’s links with Sudan. Harvard sold its stock in PetroChina.

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