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Guest Viewpoint: Resignation due to UO Foundation’s divestment from fossil fuels



This piece reflects the views of the author, Gregory R. Pulliam, and not those of Emerald Media Group. It has been edited by the Emerald for grammar and style. Send your columns or submissions about our content or campus issues to [email protected]

President’s Society member resigning from UO advisory boards / discontinuing annual giving

It is with a heavy heart and a tremendous sense of frustration I write this letter.  Due to the unfortunate announcement the UO Foundation has made regarding its intent to divest from all fossil fuel related investments, I am officially resigning from the PPPM Advisory Committee and the A&AA Dean’s Advisory Board.  I am also discontinuing my charitable giving to the University.

I have been giving to the University and volunteering in an advisory capacity for approximately 10 years, ever since PPPM awarded me their Distinguished Young Alumni Award.  My wife and I have established an endowment in the PPPM Department.  I have chosen to do this because the University means the world to me.  It has as much to do with who I am and my professional progression as any other institution I’ve touched in my life.  There is not a day that goes by, in my professional or personal life, I’m not employing an aspect of the skill set I was endowed by the University.

I work for ExxonMobil.  It’s worth noting that a significant portion of my giving, and the only reason we were able to establish the endowment in PPPM and reach President’s Society status, is due to my employer’s generous 3-to-1 Higher Education Matching Gift program.  I can no longer in good faith have ExxonMobil’s shareholder resources be allocated to the University.

Furthermore, I have worked in the oil and gas industry for more than 15 years and I know that it would be fundamentally impossible to divest of all fossil fuel related investments.  Will the University divest of all companies that depend on fossil fuels?  Will the University no longer purchase books from companies that rely on fossil fuel energy to produce their products?  Will the University ban usage of the following products:  computers, phones, cell phones, tablets, protective helmets, jerseys, cleats, footballs, cups, stickers, water resistant jackets, nylon backpacks, paint, umbrellas, Kevlar for police officers, bicycles and vehicle tires, chairs, tables, carpets and pens?  I ask this last question because every one of these products is manufactured with derivatives of petroleum.

There is no single more fundamentally important component to the wealth, health, prosperity and development of this country (and hence, the University) than the safe, reliable and affordable supply of energy we have enjoyed for 100+ years. One could accurately argue that energy is the most fundamental of human needs.  There is no clean water without such energy.  There is no clean air without such energy.  There would not have been the advancements in medicine/medical care without such energy.  Who would have thought such a “gift” and fundamental necessity would become a political football whereby misinformed political hysteria would lead to such unfortunate decisions.

I found the following quote regarding fossil fuel divestment by Harvard University President, Drew Faust, which represents what I think is a logical and reasoned counter to the UO’s decision:

“I don’t think that divestment is an appropriate tool, because I don’t think the endowment should be used for exerting political pressure…It should not be used as a weapon to exert pressure on one group or another.”

To the issue of global warming…with all due respect, it doesn’t matter if you or I believe it is happening.  It either is or it isn’t.  Let’s say it does exist.  The answer will clearly be mitigation.  This mitigation will be designed by engineers.  The energy industry employs thousands of the brightest engineers in the world.  My company believes the issue of global climate change requires action via the collaboration of governments, companies, consumers and other stakeholders to create global solutions.  In fact, if you go to www.exxonmobil.com you can read about how we are on the forefront of research and development via significant investments in advanced biofuels, carbon capture and sequestration, light-weighting plastics, packaging reduction and emerging power generation technologies.  This commitment to technology and developing solutions manifests itself in our partnerships with such esteemed institutions as MIT, Stanford, Georgia Tech, Northwestern, Michigan State and Princeton to name only a few.  See, we believe the mere question of whether warming exists and the possible human causal relationship requires substantive action.  The demonization of an industry (and all of the hard working women and men in that industry) or inherently inflexible theoretical/political rhetoric or “stances” will never address the issue of climate change for the betterment of anybody.

Any cerebral being recognizes that in order to meet the global energy needs for the next 50 years we will require an “all of the above” energy mix, including fossil fuels, solar, wind, nuclear, hydro, etc.  It’s worth noting here that my company’s Refining and Supply Company is a top supplier of lubes to the wind industry and our Chemical Company is a top supplier of films to the solar panel industry.

Even as I write this letter I feel for the alum(s) who might happen to work for the next industry that falls out of political favor with the University and has to regrettably make the equally difficult decision I have had to make.

I would have thought an institution I hold in such high regard, and have actively proudly promoted throughout my domestic and international travels, would have made a more deliberate/informed decision versus joining the echo chamber of academia on such an important issue.

You see, I am unapologetically proud to work for a company driven by delivering safe, reliable and affordable energy to the world.  Furthermore, it is immensely rewarding to work in an industry which is not merely a byproduct of, but rather an engine of our economy.

I am well aware that my decision to break formal ties to the University will have no substantive impact on the University or its decision.  Ironically, the most fundamentally important value the University instilled in me was to “take a stand for what you believe…and constantly challenge what you believe.”  A U of O professor once told me, “…one whom holds no prescribed set of guiding principles is destined to forever be a follower…and never a leader.”  With all due respect to the University, it is disappointing to see that you have merely decided to follow rather than lead on such an important issue.

My giving will now be directed to the LBJ School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin, where I completed my graduate degree.  In that they granted me a full fellowship to attend, the UO’s decision has enabled me to “right” something I’ve struggled with for some time.

The University will hold no less a place of import in my life.  Sadly, this sense of import will no longer be externally manifested in promoting, volunteering or financially contributing to the University.

Sincerely

 

Gregory R. Pulliam

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