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Student group says Harvard's financial ties to fossil fuels undermine academic integrity

A man walks past the front entrance of the Widener Library in Harvard Yard. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
A man walks past the front entrance of the Widener Library in Harvard Yard. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

A group of students at Harvard say the university’s relationship with the fossil fuel industry is undermining academic integrity. The group, Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard (FFDH), is calling for Harvard to publicly disclose the sources of funding for research, academic programs and grants tied to oil and gas, as well as the exact amount of funding.

The group is also calling for the university to prohibit any use of funding from fossil fuel companies for research related to climate change, energy policy and the environment.

The student activists recently published a report summarizing some of Harvard’s ties to oil and gas companies. It details how some centers on campus were endowed by wealthy individuals whose fortunes came from the fossil fuel industry. It also describes some faculty members’ financial ties to fossil fuel companies as well as examples of how the industry funds academic programs on climate research.

One such program, The Geopolitics of Energy Project, listed gas giant BP as one of its funders, according to an archived version of the center’s website, the students reported.

“There is an inherent danger to collaborating financially with an industry that has consistently lied, falsified, and stalled policy,” said Suhaas Bhat, a second-year student at Harvard and FFDH organizer.

Activists want the university to ban funding with any ties to oil and gas money from research related to climate and environmental science. Bhat says faculty who teach topics related to climate science and energy should also end their financial ties to fossil fuels.

Harvard University already requires faculty to disclose potential conflicts of interest in their research or teaching.  In September, Harvard President Lawrence Bacow announced that the university will divest its endowment, now valued at $53.2 billion, from any fossil fuels following years of public pressure.

Harvard University has not yet responded to the specific demands made by Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard and has made no formal comment on the report.

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Yasmin Amer Twitter Reporter
Yasmin Amer is a business reporter for WBUR.

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