An open letter condemning the university’s decision to accept a £150 million grant from Stephen A. Schwarzman, Chair-man of multinational investment firm Blackstone, has attracted nearly a hundred signatures from numerous Oxford stakeholders.
The university has accepted the do-nation in order to fund the building of a new “Stephen A. Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities”. Schwarzman has made numerous donations to universities in the past including funding new centres named after him at both MIT and Yale, having previously studied at the latter institution.
In the letter, Blackstone is condemned as having been identified by a UN special rapporteur as “the main contributor to the global housing crisis”. The firm, co-founded by Schwarzman in 1985, is further condemned over published claims that it owns companies significantly responsible for deforestation of the Amazon, as well as companies which have engaged in tax avoidance. The letter describes Schwarzman’s philanthropy in higher education as seeking to “legitimise these practices”.
The open letter further criticises the university’s willingness to accept other donations, including a previous donation from the American businessman Leonard Blavatnik to build the Blavatnik School of Government. Raising issues such as “insecure” contracts for academic staff and the underrepresentation of students from working class and BAME backgrounds, the letter criticises the use of Schwarzman’s donation for a new building as well as its source.
Numerous professors across departments and colleges have signed the open letter, in addition to a number of current students and alumni. A number of Oxford councillors from both the Labour and Green Party have signed the letter, alongside Oxford societies including Common Ground Oxford, the Oxford Climate Justice Campaign and the Labour Club.
A Blackstone spokesman has called the open letter’s allegations “blatantly wrong and irresponsible”, arguing the firm has led efforts to tackle environmental damage and the housing crisis. They said: “Blackstone has been part of the solution to the housing crisis, contributing to the availability of well-managed rental properties around the world. Since 2012, we have created over 64,000 new rental units globally and have invested over $3.5bn in renovations.” They added, “claims that Blackstone and a Brazilian company we’re invested in, Hidrovias, are responsible for the deforestation of the Amazon through the development of an industrial road is a complete myth. The letter cites inaccurate prior “reporting” which is inaccurate and irresponsible.”
A spokesperson for the university has stated that the donation was accepted after rigorous procedures which took “ethical, legal, financial and reputational issues” into account.
Vice-Chancellor Louise Richardson has called Schwarzman’s donation “an investment in excellence, an investment in Oxford … [and] an investment in the belief that under-standing what it means to be human is as critical today as it ever was.”
A spokesperson for the University said: “Mr Schwarzman has been approved by our rigorous due diligence procedures which consider ethical, legal, financial and reputational issues.
“We publish information about the University’s Committee to Review Donations, which approved Mr Schwarzman, on our website: http://www.admin.ox.ac.uk/statutes/regulations/520-122i.shtml.”
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