How Duke’s donations from fossil fuel companies compare to peer institutions'

Duke received over $24 million in research funding from the fossil fuel industry and climate denial foundations between 2010 and 2021, alleged a Friday report by the Duke Climate Coalition

The report, authored by students and published with the support of climate-action organization Fossil Free Research, is not the only one of its kind.

Student-run climate-action organizations at peer institutions, including Harvard, George Washington University and Brown, have published reports with Fossil Free Research on the ties with and funding from fossil fuel companies for their respective universities. 

These reports alleged that Brown accepted over $20 million from fossil fuel and climate-denial organizations between 2003 and 2019, that GWU’s Regulatory Studies Center has received over $2.5 million from organizations that have contributed to the Climate Change Counter Movement and that several of Harvard’s research efforts are “deeply intertwined with fossil fuel money.”

Nonprofit and corporate donations

The DCC report alleges that Duke received $5,228,593 between 2010 and 2021 from the Charles Koch Foundation, which the Union of Concerned Scientists has accused of fueling climate disinformation. However, the donation was mainly used to expand the Center's faculty and programs, including adding faculty and hiring a digital librarian. 

Duke has also received a combined total of $838,925 from ExxonMobil and Shell and $60,000 from the Scaife Foundation, according to the report. 

Reports published with the help of Fossil Free Research also claim that peer universities have accepted money from similar organizations. 

GWU’s report alleges that the university received $2,540,701 from the Koch Foundation, $1,267,000 from ExxonMobil and $848,000 from the Scaife Foundation between 2009 and 2020.

A 2023 report from by Data for Progress in collaboration with Fossil Free Research alleges that six “leading fossil fuel companies” donated over $677 million to universities between 2010 and 2020.

Data for Progress’ 2023 report collected information about donations from ExxonMobil Corporation, BP America Inc., Chevron Corporation, Shell Oil Company, ConocoPhillips and Koch Industries from IRS 990 forms, foundation reports, school databases, school reports and news articles.

The report alleged that Harvard accepted over $21 million in donations from these companies between 2010 and 2020, while Princeton, Stanford, Brown and Columbia received about $36.1 million, $56.6 million, $4.2 million and $5.5 million respectively. Duke accepted about $5.1 million from these companies, according to the report. 

Policy recommendations

The DCC’s report presents three main policy recommendations for the University: to refuse further funding and to reinvest in supporting environmental justice initiatives, to end Duke Career Center’s role in helping students enter the fossil fuel industry and to divest its full endowment from fossil fuel companies listed in the Carbon Underground 200. 

Sunrise Brown’s report proposes three similar recommendations, urging Brown to stop accepting funding from fossil fuel corporations, ban fossil fuel companies from recruiting on campus and require retirement plan vendors to offer fossil-free retirement plan options.

Instead of calling for reforms to the RSC funding practices, GWU’s report advised that the University sever ties with the center altogether.

Harvard announced that it would divest from fossil fuels in 2021. Consequently, Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard’s report does not call for divestment but instead emphasizes a demand for greater transparency surrounding research funding from and institutional ties to fossil fuel companies on the university’s campus.

“To protect Harvard’s institutional mission, it is essential that the university enforce meaningful disclosure of research funding, make the extent of fossil fuel industry funding and interests on campus known to the public, and prohibit money from fossil fuel companies for research related to climate change, energy policy, and the environment,” the report reads.

A timeline for divestment 

Though Duke’s student body voted overwhelmingly in favor of Duke’s divestment from fossil fuel companies in a 2022 Duke Student Government election, the DCC’s demands, spanning back to 2015, have not been met by the University. 

A 2022 DCC and Graduate and Professional Student Government Climate Crisis Committee report stated that the Advisory Committee on Investment Responsibility had addressed the issue of fossil fuel divestment in 2014 and 2019, but did not recommend divestment in both instances.

The report asked the ACIR to reevaluate the issue of divestment, pointing to the move towards divestment by other universities, Duke’s Climate Commitment, “the worsening state of the climate crisis [and] the instability of fossil fuels as shown by the pandemic.” 

Holly Keegan profile
Holly Keegan | University News Editor

Holly Keegan is a Trinity sophomore and a university news editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.

Abby Spiller | Editor-at-Large

Abby Spiller is a Trinity sophomore and an editor-at-large of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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