Letter to the Editor: An Oil-Funded Energy Institute Was Never A Good Idea

Maya Beauvineau ’26 responds to a recent article on Fossil Free Dartmouth’s “Investigating Irving” report, which she co-authored.

by Maya Beauvineau | 11/7/23 4:05am

Re: Fossil Free Dartmouth publishes “Investigating Irving” report critiquing College’s ties to fossil fuels

In response to Dr. McLellan and Professor Sundaram’s comments in the Oct. 31 article, I — as an author of the “Investigating Irving” report — fully agree with the need for interdisciplinary collaboration and transparency at the Irving Institute for Energy and Society. However, neither Dr. McLellan nor Professor Sundaram addressed a question at the crux of our report: Why did Dartmouth accept oil funding for an energy institute in the first place?

The Irving Oil company has backtracked on its climate goals and lobbied against clean energy legislation in Canada to pass the costs of decarbonization to consumers. More broadly, fossil fuel companies have a long track record of manipulating science and investing in greenwashing tactics to delay critical climate action.

Although faculty say their research at the Irving Institute is independent from how the Institute is funded, we must guard against any future potential sponsorship bias — the tendency of industry-funded research to support funders’ interests. This phenomenon has been documented at other prominent energy institutes, including those with written commitments to academic independence like Dartmouth. Additionally, a significant number of people who were reached out to for the report were not willing to publicly share their concerns about the Irving Institute’s association with Irving Oil — which speaks to the silencing of critical inquiry as a result of the College accepting this funding.

This is why we are calling for a fossil free research policy moving forward, which Princeton University and Harvard University have already taken steps towards. We further suggest that the College should remove fossil fuel executives from the Irving Institute Advisory Board, and that the Irving building — not necessarily the Institute — be renamed to reflect the independence of other entities located inside, such as the Sustainability Office. These steps are crucial to underscore Dartmouth’s commitment to academic independence and mitigate any conflicts of interest.

I thank Dr. McLellan and Professor Sundaram for sharing their views and welcome others to do so. This is precisely what our report sought to do: kickstart conversations about these important issues.

Maya Beauvineau ’26 is a climate organizer with Fossil Free Dartmouth and an author of the group's “Investigating Irving” report. Letters to the Editor represent the views of their author(s), which are not necessarily those of The Dartmouth.