On May 25, Dean Arun Majumdar of the new Doerr School of Sustainability launched a process for creating a set of shared values and goals for the school by the end of this fall. The decisions we make today about hiring and research funding in the Doerr School will shape the knowledge, skills and values that Stanford graduates bring to sustainability problem-solving for decades to come.
As we have made clear, we welcome the opportunity to join this conversation to critically evaluate the mission-alignment of the programs that will be part of the new school. Incoming Dean Arun Majumdar has made multiple promises of a listening tour to engage with students, faculty and staff about the principles the Doerr School will uphold. Thus far, Dean Majumdar’s office has scheduled private meetings with faculty, students and postdocs in each department separately but has not scheduled public forums. We contend that, without including public forums, this approach artificially silos conversations.
To ensure that the process for establishing shared values and criteria is as transparent, inclusive, and effective as possible, we demand the following:
- Participatory town halls at least once a month, beginning at the start of the fall quarter. These town halls must encourage interaction and active dialogue, be open to the whole Stanford Doerr School community (across departments, faculty, staff and students) and must either:
- be in-person with online options for those who can only join remotely OR
- if conducted virtually, allow for real-time questions and comments by attendees (no webinars)
- A full schedule with town hall dates and office hours communicated to the Stanford community at least two weeks in advance
- No new funding from fossil fuel companies while the listening tour is ongoing
- A commitment to discussing and establishing clear, objective and impactful criteria for industry partnerships and enforcing the criteria once they are published
Dean Majumdar has not responded to our request for details on the administration’s plans for the listening tour, nor have we heard whether or not Town Halls will be scheduled. In the meantime:
- The Doerr School has already accepted over $5 million in new funding from Shell, Total, ExxonMobile, and Bank of America via the Strategic Energy Alliance.
- More than 700 students, faculty and staff (and counting) agree that entangling the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability with fossil fuel companies would mark a conflict of interest and would thereby undermine the school’s mission. This sentiment is shared by the general public. We have shown that many of our partners currently fail to pass the four criteria laid out by the Dean to determine the integrity of fossil fuel companies. Funding criteria and their enforcement should also reflect the demands of Fossil Free Stanford, and Stanford Alumni for Climate Action.
- Despite signaling it would, the Doerr school has yet to launch a true environmental justice (EJ) faculty cluster hire. Such a process would involve recruiting a group of scholars to establish (interdisciplinary) EJ research at Stanford: a stated goal of the Doerr school.
We therefore call on the Dean to initiate a transparent process for consulting with environmental justice experts and supporters on the school’s hiring, funding, partnerships, and other critical decisions. The process should reflect the findings of the Environmental Justice Working Group and its intergenerational leadership team of students, faculty and staff. Illustrating the broad and longstanding support for hiring EJ scholars at Stanford, the EJWG received over 800 signatures in support of its 2018 EJ cluster hire proposal – a priority that should be reflected in new school hiring decisions.
A siloed and closed-door decision-making process is vulnerable to special interest groups and short-sighted decisions that will forego deeper inquiry and deliberation on how we might build a new school that benefits the broader global community and generations to come. Given the long-term impact of these decisions, we urge Dean Majumdar and the Doerr School leadership to shape the school in a truly transparent and democratic manner.
This is an opportunity for the Doerr School to demonstrate true leadership in this time of climate crisis. We look forward to joining the conversation in coming weeks.
Coalition for a True School of Sustainability
Yannai Kashtan: Yannai Kashtan is a Knight-Hennessy Scholar and a Ph.D. student in the Earth System Science program, where he researches the health effects of burning fossil fuels in the home.
Thom Hersbach: Thom Hersbach is a postdoctoral scholar at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, where he studies electrochemical hydrogen production and biomass conversion; the statements in this article are his personal opinions and do not reflect the official views of the US Department of Energy or Stanford University.
June Choi: June Choi is a Ph.D. student in Earth System Science, researching the distributional welfare impacts of climate change.
Daly Wettermark: Daly Wettermark is a masters student in Environmental Engineering, working in the field of wastewater treatment and reuse.
Celina Scott-Buechler: Celina Scott-Buechler is a Ph.D. student in the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program for Environment & Resources (E-IPER) where she works to bridge climate science and policy. She is also a senior fellow at Data for Progress.