Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard called on Harvard Law School professor Jody L. Freeman to leave her position on the ConocoPhillips board of directors in an open letter published Tuesday.
Freeman, who founded the Law School’s Environmental and Energy Law Program and established the Law School’s first environmental law clinic, has served on the board of directors of ConocoPhillips for more than a decade and chairs ConocoPhillips’ Public Policy and Sustainability Committee.
In the letter, Divest Harvard criticized ConocoPhillips — the largest oil producer in Alaska — for “listening to the call of profit without regard for climate degradation,” referencing the company’s Willow Project, an $8 billion oil-drilling project in Alaska that is set to last 30 years. Recently approved by the Biden administration, the project shows that Freeman’s position of “helping reform ConocoPhillips from the inside” is not working, the letter says.
ConocoPhillips did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the letter’s criticisms.
The letter urged Freeman to “ask herself” whether she is being “used” by ConocoPhillips and if the company is “co-opting” her “respect and legitimacy” rather than paying for her expertise.
Divest Harvard acknowledged Freeman’s “important climate work” in the letter and called on her to “not continue to grant legitimacy to ConocoPhillips by sitting on their board of directors” and honor her climate commitments over “an industry whose influence on academia and on the world has been nothing but toxic.”
In an emailed comment to The Crimson, Freeman wrote that she believes her involvement at ConocoPhillips “remains positive.”
“I share the goal of moving the world to a low carbon future as fast as possible and forcefully addressing the enormous challenges posed by climate change,” Freeman wrote. “There are many ways to make a difference, and activism is very important.” she wrote.
“I have chosen to engage in several ways, including by being an independent director on the board of ConocoPhillips to help advance the transition to a low-carbon economy, and think my involvement there remains positive,” Freeman added.
Phoebe G. Barr ’23-’24, an organizer at Divest Harvard, said Freeman’s position at ConocoPhillips and her position at Harvard are incompatible.
“Jody Freeman currently takes $350,000 a year from ConocoPhillips, and this gives her a fiduciary responsibility to that company,” Barr said, citing a salary figure from the company’s 2019 proxy statement. “She also holds a position at Harvard of a top climate adviser and environmental law professor, which gives her a responsibility towards Harvard and towards the climate commitments of Harvard, and we believe that these two responsibilities are not compatible.”
Still, Barr said Divest Harvard’s goal is not to place blame on Freeman.
“Our aim is certainly not to place all of the blame for a pervasive issue onto a single individual,” Barr said. “But we do believe that individuals, especially individuals at very powerful institutions like Harvard, have the power to make very strong statements with their actions.”
—Staff writer Sabrina R. Hu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @sxbrinahhu.