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Stanford community critiques Sustainability School’s acceptance of fossil fuel funds,

The debate over Stanford’s relationship with fossil fuel companies has reached a fever pitch across campus. Intensifying calls for Stanford to establish a bright-line stance, divest from these companies and refuse their donations have dampened a historic moment at the University: the launch of a new School of Sustainability funded by a record $1.1 billion donation from philanthropists John and Ann Doerr.

In interviews following the announcement, administrators, including incoming dean Arun Majumdar, have stood firm on two stances over which they have faced criticism: the school will work with and accept donations from fossil fuel companies and will not engage in political advocacy.

The new school, which is set to launch on Sept. 1, aims to accelerate solutions to the global climate crisis. The school will have a distinctive three-part structure that brings about 90 existing faculty to the its academic departments, bridges areas of scholarship through interdisciplinary institutes and establishes an accelerator to drive policy and technology solutions. 

The school will also be willing to work with and accept donations from fossil fuel companies, according to Majumdar, who has consistently emphasized that industry collaboration is necessary to solve the climate crisis. The decision is in line with the University’s continued refusal to divest from fossil fuels, despite growing criticism from some students and faculty.

Most recently, the Board of Trustees rejected a resolution to divest from publicly-traded oil and natural gas companies in June 2020, while an increasing number of peer institutions, such as Harvard, have committed to divestment. The campus group Fossil Free Stanford (FFS) also joined with the Climate Defense Project (CDP) to file a legal complaint against Stanford, contending that, by refusing to divest, the University is shirking its duty as a public charitable corporation to promote the public interest.

“Given all the evidence we have of climate change, and how it affects marginalized communities, communities of color, less developed countries, you can’t really support accepting donations from fossil fuel companies,” said FFS advocate Isabel Sofia Vilá Ortiz ’25.

Still, the school’s launch has earned praise from some who see the sustainability school as a step in the right direction, albeit with room for improvement.

Benjamin Franta, a Ph.D. candidate in the history of science, commended the school for not relying on oil funding in its initial $1.1 billion investment. As a researcher and director of accountability research for the Climate Social Science Network, Franta studies the history of fossil fuel companies and climate change politics. He stressed that the school’s initial funding represents a positive shift from the status quo – many of Stanford’s energy and climate centers have historically relied on fossil fuel funds – and said that this school offers Stanford the opportunity to dilute its…

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2022-05-31 01:30:14

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