Widgets Magazine

Fossil Free Stanford protest prompts professor’s resignation from APIRL

The Band rally commemorating Meyer Library wasn’t the only rally making noise Wednesday afternoon, as Fossil Free Stanford (FFS) led a group of an estimated 75 students on an on-campus march in their continued push for University divestment from oil and gas companies.

The rally protested the alleged obstruction of Stanford’s investment review process by University officials and the Stanford Management Company (SMC), the University division in charge of investing and managing its endowment and other financial assets. The march began in the Main Quad outside the President’s office.

The protest was originally sparked by the placement of earth sciences professor Mark Zoback on the Advisory Panel on Investment Responsibility and Licensing (APIRL). APIRL is a group comprised of students, faculty, staff and alumni tasked with reviewing business policies and practices of the University that might cause “substantial social injury,” according to the APIRL website.

FFS believed Zoback, who would have served on the Environmental Sustainability subcommittee of the APIRL, had a conflict of interest. He currently serves as the director of the Stanford Natural Gas Initiative and as a senior advisor for Baker Hughes, Inc., one of the largest oilfield service companies. Zoback declined to comment on his resignation.

Following the announcement of the rally, Zoback stepped down from the panel on Tuesday afternoon. His resignation, publicized in an email statement from APIRL chair Susan Weinstein, came despite his and the University’s disagreement with the conflict-of-interest claims.

“Neither Mark nor the University agrees with this assessment; however, in the interest of not distracting campus discussion from the core issue, Mark has voluntarily stepped aside,” Weinstein wrote. “You should know that the University did not encourage or request that he resign.”

FFS proceeded with the rally, claiming its overall concerns with the University and with the SMC were still valid. Rally organizer Courtney Pal ’18 acknowledged Zoback’s expertise in environmental issues but said she believes that his “financial stake in the proliferation of fossil fuels” was a clear conflict of interest and that approving him as a panel member is indicative of the general and intentional mismanagement of the APIRL.

“We think that [his selection] is a demonstration of things that are wrong with the larger process,” Pal said.

Those larger issues stem back to last year, Pal said. According to her, FFS met with APIRL last year on a regular basis, typically once a week. In this academic year, FFS has only been able to meet with the Environmental Sustainability Subcommittee once.

“We had a lot of momentum going into that November meeting and believed that we had a great dialogue with them in that meeting,” Pal said. “We’re completely back at square one. I don’t think that’s a responsible process that they’ve developed.”

After the march concluded at the Graduate School of Business, FFS members Yari Greaney ’15 and Arjun Krishnaswami ’16 read aloud an open letter to the SMC. Krishnaswami said it has been “nearly impossible” to work with the APIRL this year, especially because of the apparent double standard with the selection process.

“One example of this is that the faculty member who studies the economic effects of climate change for a living was unable to serve on this panel because the meetings were scheduled during her class time,” Krishnaswami said.

Greaney tied their discontent back to the larger issue of divestment.

“Stanford Management Company, every day that you remain invested in fossil fuels, every day that we are stalled due to poor management of the advisory panel — that is another day that you bow down to the fossil fuel industry, letting it wreak havoc to our campaign,” she said. “But we will not bow down to that future.”

Krishnaswami said he believes the most egregious conflict of interest has yet to be resolved.

“You can’t pretend to have an interest in the futures of your students while also maintaining a vested interest in the profitability of fossil fuel companies,” he said. “It is a clear conflict of interest.”

While a replacement for Zoback has not yet been named, Weinstein’s letter stated that his resignation could delay progress with FFS.

“I am sure the Environmental Subcommittee will do its best to move forward with reduced membership; however, I am anticipating a delay in completing APIRL’s consideration of Fossil Free Stanford’s Request for Review as we look for new members,” she wrote.


Contact Tristan Vanech at tvanech ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Tristan Vanech

Tristan Vanech is a sports managing editor and former news desk editor on the campus life beat. A Symbolic Systems major from Venice, CA, Tristan loves playing basketball and football. His most notable accomplishment at The Daily is leading its flag football team as quarterback to break a three-year drought in the annual Ink Bowl against the Daily Cal. Ball is life. Email him at tvanech@stanford.edu.
  • skullbreathe

    “Neither Mark nor the University agrees with this assessment; however, in the interest of not distracting campus discussion from the core issue, Mark has voluntarily stepped aside,” Weinstein wrote. “You should know that the University did not encourage or request that he resign.”
    The anti-free speech crowd wins again. When is this going to stop?

  • This isn’t a matter of free speech. Mr. Zoback can say what he likes and is not prevented from doing so. It’s a matter of conflict of interest, which is a standard condition to avoid on decision-making bodies like the APIRL. If Mr. Zoback were to serve on the APIRL, he would have had a responsibility to evaluate and make a recommendation on institutional divestment from oil and gas companies. At the same time, he has personal financial interests in both oil and gas. This is a clear conflict of interest. He made the right move stepping down from APIRL. He is certainly not prevented from making arguments on the issue of divestment to APIRL or the public.

    As for APIRL’s whining that they’ll be slowed down because they have to find another member — maybe they should have had the common sense not to tap someone who has personal financial interests in the oil and gas industry precisely when their task is to make a recommendation on divestment from oil and gas! That would seem to be a no-brainer.

  • farah2

    Diversity of opinion becomes conflict of interest when you disagree. Sad how universities are so homogenous in thought these days.

  • StanfordStudent

    The fossil-free movement is literally harassing everyone who might potentially disagree with its politicized and science-free agenda, even when this someone is a knowledge professor like Mark Zoback. Extrapolating the irrational movement’s logic, Zoback should also not be teaching at Stanford on issues related to oil and gas, because he will be clearly “brainwashing” the students to become “drill-baby-drill” lovers. This is just utter stupidity.

  • Candid One

    There’s always a suspicion of terminal narrow-mindedness in complaints about conflict of interest and “fox watching the flock” complaints. If FFS is more wrought with sanctimony than insight, it’s probably wisest for Prof. Zoback to remove himself from involvement. The polemics and dogma are better than the substance, huh? Prof. Zoback is not a refugee from the tobacco industry. His advisory role was not a political role. When polemics prevade, advice is not valued. Why shouldn’t he move on? His departure from APIRL does not remove his expertise from Stanford; his experienced perspective will continue to be available as the “no-brainer” approach continues to shoot itself in the foot.