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Amid FAS Dean Search, Divest Harvard Demands New Dean Reject Fossil Fuel Funding

Students hold signs advocating for Harvard's divestment from fossil fuels in front of University Hall during a 2021 protest.
Students hold signs advocating for Harvard's divestment from fossil fuels in front of University Hall during a 2021 protest. By Pei Chao Zhuo
By Sabrina R. Hu and Jeffrey Q. Yang, Crimson Staff Writers

Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard, a student climate advocacy organization, released a letter calling on Harvard to select a Faculty of Arts and Sciences dean who will restrict the influence of the fossil fuel industry on academic research.

Current FAS Dean Claudine Gay and University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 are two months into the search for the next dean of Harvard’s largest school after the University tapped Gay to become Harvard’s 30th president starting July.

In a letter addressed to Gay and the FAS dean search advisers, Divest Harvard called for the new dean to be “free of personal fossil fuel conflicts of interest,” be “willing and able to enforce existing rules” on transparency in research funding, and “have a plan for phasing out fossil fuel money in the research process.”

Divest Harvard cited a report released in March by left-wing think tank Data for Progress that found that in the past decade, Harvard has received at least $20 million of research funding from fossil fuel companies.

“This doesn’t just put Harvard’s academic mission at risk — it threatens our reputation, too,” the letter stated.

The April letter came after Divest Harvard penned an open letter to Harvard Law School professor Jody L. Freeman criticizing her board position at fossil fuel company ConocoPhillips.

Freeman, the principal investigator of a group investigating tools for corporations to reach net-zero emissions goals, recently received a research grant from Harvard’s Salata Institute for Climate and Sustainability and has faced criticism that the role could represent a potential conflict of interest with her climate work.

More stringent rules on funding sources are not unprecedented, Divest Harvard wrote in the letter, pointing to “rigorous public disclosure policies” in place for research at Harvard Medical School and the School of Public Health’s decision to not accept funding from the tobacco industry.

Phoebe G. Barr ’23-’24, an organizer with Divest Harvard, said the new FAS dean should consider the climate crisis “one of the most important, if not the most important issues, of our time.”

“Faculty of Arts and Sciences has actually been one of the weakest schools at Harvard in terms of its policies with regard to fossil fuel industry funding and specifically disclosure of that funding,” Barr said.

The letter also pointed to steps that Princeton, Brown, and Oxford have taken to limit climate research funding from the fossil fuel industry.

“Harvard, however, chronically lags its peers in guarding against fossil fuel impingements on the academic process,” the letter reads.

Harvard spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain declined to comment.

Going forward, Barr said she hopes Harvard’s new incoming leadership will listen to Divest Harvard’s perspective.

“We would like for this new president and this new dean to be somebody who’s willing to listen to our concerns and our progress and our goals for improving Harvard,” she said.

—Staff writer Sabrina R. Hu can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @sxbrinahhu.

—Staff writer Jeffrey Q. Yang can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jeffreyqyang.

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