The Supreme Court stated that just because plaintiffs donated to Harvard’s Foundation did not mean they were willing to question the use of the funds.
A Massachusetts judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by Harvard University students and graduates who urged the school to invest in for-profit prison societies.
According to The Harvard Crimson, the ruling effectively ends the lawsuit that has been debated for almost part of last year.
The Crimson reports how the five plaintiffs – several graduate students from the university as well as members of the Harvard Prison Divestment Campaign – alleged the college had violated its fiduciary duty to run a foundation in good faith by putting money in private prisons. While previous lawsuits had similarly sought to improve Harvard’s investment policy, the HPDC took a different stance. In a rather novel line of argument, plaintiffs alleged that Harvard had falsely promoted by “promising to atone for its historical ties to slavery” while funding companies that engage in forced labor.
A similar lawsuit was filed against Harvard in 2014. In this case, the students tried to force the university to separate from the fossil fuel industry.
However, another judge in Massachusetts dismissed the lawsuit. In its ruling, the court found that Harvard students did not have sufficient authority to question the university’s use of foundation funds.
However, the plaintiffs of the prison sale had already prepared a counter – some were Harvard alumni, others were PhD students. What matters is that they all donated to Harvard prior to filing the lawsuit.
Since their donations would have been used for the general equipment of the university, they were – possibly – made stakeholders in the school administration.
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However, Massachusetts Supreme Court Justice Christopher K. Barry-Smith found the plaintiffs lacking reputation. In his decision, Barry-Smith took the view that, despite their donations, the students and HPDC members could not prove that they should be given “a special right in the administration or administration of Harvard’s foundations”.
Barry-Smith noted that only the Massachusetts Attorney General has clear power to question how a nonprofit or institution – like Harvard – manages its assets.
While individuals can be given a “special position” to challenge the management of nonprofit assets, they can only claim a position if they have an interest in an organization that is distinctly different from what is considered a public interest can be.
“Contrary to Plaintiffs’ arguments,” wrote Barry-Smith, “nothing is included.” [cited] legal framework that enables donors to sue the legislature’s mandate that the attorney general have the exclusive power and authority to enforce such conduct. “
“Plaintiffs have not alleged that they conditioned their gifts, an act that might confer such a position, and as such, Harvard may use their donations as it is deemed appropriate to advance its charitable causes.”
The Harvard Crimson notes that despite the unfavorable verdict, plaintiff and HPDC organizer Amanda T. Chan will continue to fight the university’s investments in private prisons.
“All I have to say is this: the fight continues,” Chain told the Crimson. “Harvard has fought well for its right to invest in slavery and benefit from the prison industrial complex, but we are not going to back down.”
Harvard students are suing the school for divesting companies that benefit from the prison industry
Massachusetts court dismissed Harvard jail sale campaign suit for university investment