Members Named to Committee Reviewing Fossil Fuel Funding of Research

(Originally published by Stanford News on February 24, 2023)

Members from diverse academic backgrounds have been named to a committee charged with assessing Stanford’s approach to supporting research through funds from fossil fuel companies.

In December, Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne created a committee to review broad community perspectives regarding future engagement or disengagement with energy companies and asked Debra Satz, dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences, and Paul Brest, former dean of Stanford Law School, to co-chair the committee. Now, the committee is announcing members, who come from across academic disciplines.

Dean Jenny Martinez and Professor Michelle Wilde Anderson

The committee is charged with assessing current funding from fossil fuel companies, reviewing the approach of other universities, and providing pros and cons of the current approach of accepting these funds and of alternative approaches. The group is also expected to consider a variety of approaches to better understand diverse viewpoints and concerns across the campus, and to engage the Stanford community in thoughtful discourse.

“The committee plans to play an educational role as well as an advisory role as it implements its charge,” said Satz. “We have a lot to learn from engagement with different perspectives on this issue, and I think we also will have something to contribute back. I am very grateful to all of our committee members, each of whom brings expertise in some aspect of the issues.”

Members include:

  • Jenny Martinez, dean of Stanford Law School
  • Jonathan Levin, dean of the Graduate School of Business
  • Michelle Anderson, professor of law and professor in the social sciences division in the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability
  • Leif Wenar, professor of philosophy
  • Inês Azevedo, associate professor of energy science & engineering
  • Adam Nayak, BS ’22, master’s student in management science & engineering
  • Narasimha Rao, E-IPER PhD ’11, associate professor of energy systems at Yale School of the Environment

These members bring diverse academic backgrounds and broad experiences to the issue of fossil fuel companies supporting energy research. For example, Wenar has written about the ways oil money fuels violence, repression, and atrocities in his book Blood Oil: Tyrants, Violence, and the Rules that Run the World and other writings. Azevedo’s work focuses on technologies to transition the energy infrastructure away from fossil fuels. She has received funding for this work from corporate affiliate programs that include oil and gas companies as members. Anderson teaches courses that focus on environmental justice, and Rao’s research examines the relationship between energy systems, human development, and climate change.

Adam Nayak, the committee’s student member, has been involved in advocacy issues including labor rights and land use, in addition to being part of several groups focused on sustainability and environmental justice. “I’m trying to be a touchpoint to bring many different student perspectives into the conversation,” he said. “There are a lot of different views on this issue among students and I want to be able to represent those to the committee.”

The committee has so far met twice and spent the time beginning to learn about the path to decarbonization, the various kinds of energy-related research being conducted at Stanford, and the arguments for and against restricting the funding of such research. They anticipate additional meetings and events to learn perspectives of the entire Stanford community. The group expects to produce a report by the end of spring quarter, which will guide university decision-makers in considering any necessary changes to current policies and practices regarding funding from fossil fuel companies.