University of Iowa hypocritically accepts Exxon dollars

While improving sustainability, the University of Iowa should return certain toxic contributions.

by The Daily Iowan

The University of Iowa is going through tough times and has had to make numerous sacrifices in order to balance its books, but integrity shouldnâÄôt be one of them. ExxonMobilâÄôs contributions to the UI both last year and this year stand in direct contradiction to the universityâÄôs commitment to sustainability. The UI announced on September 11 that ExxonMobil donated approximately $100,000 to the UI Foundation âÄî the nonprofit organization that handles private donations to the university âÄî as part of the oil companyâÄôs employee matching program. Under the program, ExxonMobil donates $3 for every $1 an employee or employeeâÄôs relative donates to the foundation. Employee donations last year totaled more than $36,000. ExxonMobilâÄôs donation is a large sum and will no doubt help floundering departments desperately in need of some extra cash. But impressive as it may be, ExxonMobilâÄôs donations are antithetical to the UIâÄôs sustainability commitment. The university introduced a certificate program this semester designed to prepare students for sustainability careers and research. The new Beckwith Boathouse is the first building at the UI to receive Leadership in Energy Environmental Design certification. Craig Just, an associate research scientist of civil-environmental engineering, said the UI was looking to expand its sustainability commitment. ExxonMobilâÄôs donations come at an inappropriate time. The oil giant is a leader in arguably the least sustainable industry in the world and delivered a $45 billion profit to shareholders last year. Despite its PR blitz touting the company as environmentally friendly âÄî ExxonMobil has invested about $1.5 billion since 2004 âÄúto reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and improve energy efficiency,âÄù according to its 2008 annual report âÄî the company spent $12.3 billion on capital and oil exploration products in the first half of 2009 alone, according to the Dallas Business Journal. The priorities of the ostensibly âÄúgreenâÄù company are clear. The company is also responsible for one of North AmericaâÄôs greatest environmental disasters. The Exxon Valdez âÄî an Exxon oil tanker âÄî ran aground on the Alaskan coast in 1989, spilling millions of gallons of oil and severely damaged the environment. The money ExxonMobil and its employees have is not gargantuan. Susan Shullaw, the UI Foundation Senior Vice President for Strategic Communications, said ExxonâÄôs $100,000 approximate donation was one of around 100 other donations similar in size. The contributionâÄôs relative size and scope illuminates the UI FoundationâÄôs reasoning behind its acceptance. Shullaw said the UI and UI Foundation officials take a second look at a company only if its contribution could lead to recognition. The UI would think twice if the oil giant wanted to give $50 million, but the UI Foundation didnâÄôt hesitate in accepting $100,000. ExxonMobil isnâÄôt the first company with a questionable reputation the UI has accepted money from. Coca-Cola is infamous for allegations of union-busting and environmental degradation, yet the company still enjoys a sales monopoly on campus and at sporting events. The ExxonMobil donation, however, highlights an even starker contradiction. The UI is busy trying to market itself as a âÄúgreenâÄù university. But how green can the UI really be if ExxonMobil is paying the bills? This editorial, accessed via UWire, was originally published in The Daily Iowan at the University of Iowa. Please send comments to [email protected].