Seven Harvard University students have filed a lawsuit asking a judge to force the university's governing body to divest from fossil fuel companies.
The lawsuit filed Wednesday alleges investment in those companies violates the university's duties as a public charity. The complaint asks the court to compel the Harvard Corporation, the governing body, to stop investing any of its $36.4 billion endowment in gas, coal and oil companies.
Harvard students have pressed the university to divest from fossil fuels as a way to slow climate change.
"Climate change is now causing harm through mortality, economic damage and political instability," said Benjamin Franta, one of the students who filed the lawsuit. "The Harvard Corporation has a moral and legal duty to avoid investing in activities that cause such grave harms to its students and the public."
Spokesman Jeff Neal said university leaders agree that climate change must be confronted but "differ on the means" to do that. Neal says Harvard continues to focus on supporting research and teaching to create climate change solutions.
In a letter to the Harvard community in October 2013, Harvard President Drew Faust called climate change "one of the world's most consequential challenges" but said she and her colleagues on the Harvard Corporation do not believe that divestment from the fossil fuel industry is warranted.
"The funds in our endowment have been given to us by generous benefactors over many years to advance academic aims, not to serve other purposes, however worthy," Faust wrote.
"The endowment is a resource, not an instrument to impel social or political change," she wrote.
This article was originally published on November 20, 2014.