Harvard Community: Rubenstein, Recuse or Resign

As co-founder and co-CEO of the Carlyle Group, Rubenstein has overseen a firm that’s been one of private equity’s worst offenders on climate, funneling billions towards some of the most dangerous carbon extraction initiatives today. He’s also a top Harvard trustee.

CAMBRIDGE — Yesterday, Harvard students rallied with a simple call: Rubenstein, Recuse or Resign. The message, directed towards university trustee and notorious oil and gas profiteer David Rubenstein, called on him to obey basic principles of legal ethics and step back from decisions regarding the university’s response to the climate crisis — or, if he can’t, to resign from Harvard’s governing board.

“As co-founder and co-CEO of the Carlyle Group, Rubenstein has overseen a firm that’s been one of private equity’s worst offenders on climate, funneling billions towards some of the most dangerous carbon extraction initiatives today,” said Phoebe Barr ’23. “But despite this, Rubenstein’s name is all around campus, and he sits on the university’s highest governing board — meaning that he’s shaping Harvard’s response to the climate crisis, even as he personally cashes in on it. That’s why our message is clear — Rubenstein, recuse or resign. Stand back from climate decisions at Harvard that serve to line your pockets — or, if you can’t, step down from the board today.”

The rally, which took place in front of the John Harvard statue, came in the wake of growing scrutiny over Rubenstein’s climate record. A recent article in The Guardian, “Private equity’s dirty dozen: the 12 US firms funding dirty energy projects,” identified Rubenstein and his firm as one of private equity’s worst actors on climate, investing in companies such as Colgate Energy, which has spewed toxins near low-income Latino communities in Texas, the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery, which dumped toxic air emissions into predominantly Black neighborhoods, and Hillcorp, whose emissions dwarf even ExxonMobil.

“While Harvard’s decision to stop investing in fossil fuels was an important step forward, it needs to go further and cut its ties with private equity oil barons like David Rubenstein,” said Derek Seidman, Research Director of LittleSis, a project of the Public Accountability Initiative that studies the private equity sector’s climate record. “We know that Rubenstein and the Carlyle Group have invested billions in dozens of dirty oil and gas operations that have documented, harmful impacts on the climate and on frontline communities. With all the challenges ahead around divestment and climate justice, Harvard simply can’t trust a fossil fuel profiteer like Rubenstein to hold a governing role at the university.”

LittleSis, along with the Private Equity Stakeholder Project, recently launched the Clean Up Carlyle campaign, which seeks to hold the firm, and all institutions who grant it legitimacy by hosting Rubenstein on their board, accountable. The groups recently released a report that first uncovered many of the ties between Carlyle and fossil fuel interests.

The rally also comes on the heels of growing scrutiny within the Harvard community about the university’s remaining fossil fuel conflicts of interest. Last semester, FFDH released a report exploring several potential violations of the university’s conflict of interest policies when it comes to oil money in the university’s academic and governance processes. The Harvard Crimson also ran an op-ed calling for Rubenstein to recuse or resign this morning.

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We made Harvard commit to divestment. Now, the fight continues for climate and endowment justice.