Sunrise Brown published a report on Monday that investigates the University’s ties to “fossil fuel-affiliated and climate disinformation-affiliated organizations” and calls for the University’s dissociation from the fossil fuel industry.
The release of the report coincides with the launch of Sunrise Brown’s DIRE campaign, which advocates for the University to “dissociate” from the fossil fuel industry and “reinvest” in Rhode Island communities, according to an Instagram post from the group.
Dissociation would mean cutting off “all financial and social ties to the fossil fuel industry and official fuel industry affiliates,” said Ethan Drake ’24, one of the co-authors of the report. This would entail “getting rid of all research money, gifts and grants coming into the University” as well as “creating a (fossil-free) retirement fund option for faculty and … adopting (a) fossil fuel free careers policy to ban fossil fuel companies from hosting and creating events on campus.”
In March 2020, the University announced it was halting investment in fossil fuel extraction companies in the endowment, and Sunrise Brown is calling for further action. In September 2022, Princeton announced it would dissociate from 90 companies active in the thermal coal or tar sands segments of the fossil fuel industry.
“To the best of our knowledge, the report shared with The Herald has not been presented to the University, and we don’t feel that it’s appropriate to comment about a document we have not received directly,” wrote University Spokesperson Brian Clark in an email to The Herald. “The most appropriate way to engage with students on this report will be to respond directly to the student authors.”
Last semester, Sunrise Brown interrupted an ExxonMobil recruitment event in the Lincoln Field Building to protest the company’s impact on the environment.
As of September 2021, faculty members said the University’s retirement plans offered limited environmentally sustainable options, The Herald previously reported. Last April, the University began the process of updating “relevant policies and processes to reflect that, to the best extent practicable, the University will not conduct business with individuals and organizations that directly support the creation and dissemination of science disinformation.”
It additionally announced a new review committee for small gifts and announced plans to establish a “permanent gift and grant review committee.”
Sunrise Brown collaborated with Fossil Free Research — a broad coalition of student organizers “advocating for an end to fossil fuel-funded research” — to conduct its analysis of donations to the University, according to Drake.
The report claimed that the University received at least 93 contributions totaling $20,511,567 from non-profit organizations affiliated with fossil fuel companies and climate disinformation organizations between 2003 and 2019. Contributions came primarily from three sources — the Vanguard Charitable Endowment Program, the Hess Foundation and foundations tied to the Koch family.
The report also claimed that at least 63 research articles published since 2010 “had both a Brown-affiliated author and sponsorship from at least one of the top 50 companies by total fossil fuel production on the Urgewald Global Oil and Gas Exit List or the Global Coal Exit List.”
But for most of those articles, the report was unable to determine whether the fossil fuel funding went to the Brown-affiliated researcher or to another author — only five of the articles specified that the funding went directly to the Brown-affiliated author, the report noted.
In its conclusion, the report called for the University to adopt a “comprehensive dissociation policy” regarding fossil fuel companies and organizations spreading climate disinformation. “Sunrise Brown urges that Brown takes action against the fossil fuel industry and its affiliated organizations to revoke the industry’s social license and set a meaningful standard for how a university should associate with groups driving the climate crisis,” the report reads.
Creating the report was “a huge team effort,” said Isaac Slevin ’25, a report co-author.
Participants worked on the report in various capacities, using their winter breaks to meet on Zoom, review archives and records, conduct quantitative research and write the report.
“Fossil fuel companies use universities to generate research that is more favorable to fossil fuels,” Slevin said. “That’s unacceptable, especially as a university that should be committed to academic freedom … and creating unbiased research.”
Beyond the report, Caitlyn Carpenter ’26, a former Herald podcast editor and co-author of the report, explained that Sunrise Brown’s campaign for dissociation includes a call for Brown to reinvest in the Providence community.
Sunrise Brown is advocating for the University to pay more to the city through voluntary payments.
Sunrise Brown will host a rally this Friday to formally launch its DIRE campaign and build support for dissociation and reinvestment.
“We have a whole campaign that's going to be about garnering student support, faculty support, alumni (support and) Corporation support to get this as popular as it can be,” Slevin said, in order to encourage Brown to set “a national precedent for how universities should be treating the fossil fuel industry.”