Oxford UCU statement on the Stephen A. Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities

We believe that the University’s decision to accept £150 million from Stephen A. Schwarzman, the co-founder and Chairman of Blackstone, contravenes the University’s professed aims regarding (1) equality and diversity and (2) climate change.

Stephen A. Schwarzman was an influential advisor to President Donald Trump during the period of the presidency that saw Executive Order 13769, the so-called “Muslim Travel Ban”. Blackstone is one of the world’s largest corporate residential landlords. According to Leilani Farha, the UN special rapporteur for adequate housing, it is significantly responsible for fuelling the global housing crisis (http://bit.ly/2steXD9).

Blackstone has $7 billion invested in fossil fuel companies (http://bit.ly/30pH3LO). It also owns two companies that described in a recent article as ‘significantly responsible for the ongoing destruction of the Amazon rainforest’: Hidrovias do Brasil and Pátria Investimentos. Blackstone also has a long and established record of allocating campaign donations to climate change denying politicians.

We believe that the “Schwarzman Centre” will be built with the proceeds of the exploitation and disenfranchisement of vulnerable people across the world.

Further, we are concerned about the lack of transparency and accountability regarding the decision. The Schwarzman Centre plans were strategically announced so as to avoid resistance. They were revealed on the 19th of June 2019, when faculty were marking finals and students were sitting exams. Humanities Faculty boards were informed of the plans through the press. This means they were unable to discuss the plans or give approval. The negotiations and the review process are subject to Non-Disclosure Agreements, which prevent external review. There has been no internal or external consultation over the acceptance of the donation. This lack of transparency makes a mockery of the University’s claim to be one of the most democratically constituted universities in the world.

We call on the University of Oxford to provide the following, by way of a public statement:

  1. further details of how the decision was made to accept Schwarzman’s donation, including a full account of the steps taken by the University’s Committee to Review Donations and information on the make-up of the Committee.
  2. to clarify the proposed governance structure of the new “Institute for Ethics in AI”, which will also be housed at the Schwarzman Centre.

We also call on the University to commit to new transparent and democratic procedures regarding gifts and donations, including the creation of a democratically elected deliberative body composed of faculty, students, staff, alumni, and local representatives. This new elected body will oversee policies and guidelines for ethical fundraising at Oxford. Its meetings will be open to anyone.

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