A coalition of student organizations and faculty launched a campaign earlier this month calling on officials to publicly disclose the sources of GW’s funding.
The Coalition for Ethics and Transparency – which includes 14 student organizations and 17 professors representing five of GW’s schools – sent a letter calling on officials to disclose “restricted gifts,” one-time donations to GW that fund an initiative that a donor selects and total more than $50,000 from for-profit and nonprofit entities. The coalition is urging officials to disclose the sources of externally funded research, create annual reports on fundraising from corporations and nonprofits and implement the Environmental, Social and Governance Responsibility task force’s 2022 recommendations to produce “timely” and “accessible” investment reporting.
“By taking the steps we call for today, GW has the opportunity to become a more accountable and transparent institution, and a leader across higher education,” the letter states.
The Board of Trustees dissolved the ESG task force in May, two years after it started drafting recommended changes to the University’s environmental practices, following a yearslong student campaign to end GW’s investments in the fossil fuel industry. The task force outlined a plan to completely divest GW’s endowment from the fossil fuel industry by 2025, which the Board adopted in June 2020.
University spokesperson Julia Metjian said the University received the letter from the coalition, which includes organizations like Sunrise GW, Jewish Voice for Peace, Student for Justice in Palestine and Students Against Imperialism, and officials will “review its recommendations.”
“The University has policies and practices in place related to receiving and disclosing research funding and gifts,” she said in an email. “We regularly review such policies and practices, make appropriate updates and ensure they are aligned with best practices to support academic freedom and transparency.”
Metjian declined to comment on if trustees are on track to divest from the fossil fuel industry by 2025 and how officials are increasing transparency in external research funding from for-profit and nonprofit institutions.
Bella Kumar, a sophomore and member of Sunrise GW, said she and other students formed the coalition out of concern about GW’s reported acceptance of “dirty money,” which she said are funds dependent on the “destruction of different aspects of life,” like the climate.
Former University President Thomas LeBlanc openly disclosed to a student in a 2020 video that the University, at the time, devoted three percent of its investments to the fossil fuel industry.
“The overarching goal of this funding transparency campaign is obviously to get the transparency that students deserve and need, but also give us a way to say, ‘Look, GW has told us that they are taking this money. We don’t have to do this research on our own anymore,’” Kumar said.
Kumar said she and other Sunrise members reached out to faculty who previously committed to not taking any fossil fuel money for research to ask them to join the coalition. She said the coalition rolled out a written resolution for schools and departments to commit to disclosing the sources of their funding.
“The coalition is going after departments who are sympathetic to the cause, who are pro-transparency, and ask them to sort of formulate their own database, a Google Sheet, whatever that looks like for them, that has their funding in it that we can see and that is updated and made public,” she said.
Kumar said the coalition will push for officials to fulfill these goals by the end of the spring semester.
Six professors whose names were signed onto the letter declined to comment on their involvement in the coalition or said they weren’t involved enough in the coalition to comment.
Aza Evans-Townsend, a junior majoring in journalism and mass communication and a member of Sunrise GW, said a petition calling on the administration to implement the coalition’s demands has hit 218 signatures as of Wednesday.
Evans-Townsend said Sunrise has learned that academic entities at GW, like the Regulatory Studies Center – a GW research center focused on policy analysis of government regulations – are often reliant on funding from private corporations to conduct research. Sunrise GW led a 12-hour sit-in at the RSC office in November to protest the center’s ties to the fossil fuel industry.
“One of the main things we know is that without funding from private corporations, they would be unable to do the research that they’re doing,” Evans-Townsend said. “So it is clear that there’s a reliance on something, which then sort of impedes faculty from being able to do research if they don’t have it.”
Lance Lokas, the president of Students for Justice in Palestine, said he helped write the coalition letter to “mobilize” the student body and create a space where students know they can rectify their concerns. He said students who are involved in research on campus may not know if the funding of their projects come from weapons manufacturing companies, like Lockheed Martin – which earned billions of dollars from a weapons sale to Saudi Arabia’s government as it wages war against Yemen.
The Elliott School of International Affairs received funding from weapons manufacturers like Lockheed Martin in 2013, according to the 2013-14 annual school report.
“There are a lot of students who are part of our members or who are just within the community that we usually interact with, like Palestinians, Arab students, who are involved in research and who don’t know where this one thing is coming from,” Lokas said. “It could be coming from weapon manufacturers, defense contractors, people who are actively involved in exporting war and violence overseas that directly affect people here at GW.”
Ivy Ken, an associate professor of sociology and women’s gender and sexuality studies who signed onto the coalition’s letter, said the public has a right to know what companies are funding professors’ research and the University’s academic institutions.
“If a faculty member or a center at GW wants to accept Koch money, they should face public pressure to reveal it and to defend their decision, given the Koch men’s long-term plan to undermine democracy in the U.S.,” Ken said in an email.
Koch Industries owner and businessman Charles Koch gave $81.7 million through his personal foundation to 140 universities and colleges across the country in 2021, including GW, which received slightly more than $500,000 in funds.
David Karpf, an associate professor of Media and Public Affairs said professors should be “insistent” on passing the coalition’s demands.
“I joined the coalition because this is something that GW should already be doing, and when large organizations aren’t already doing a thing they should be doing, it usually takes a little bit of coordination or effort to get them there,” Karpf said in an interview. “So I was happy to join the coalition because there’s no reason we should not be doing this.”
This article appeared in the January 26, 2023 issue of the Hatchet.