Education
5:02 pm
Tue March 13, 2012

Environmental group questions Dow's sustainability gift to UofM

Update 5:02 p.m.

Rick Fitzgerald, a spokesman for the University of Michigan, responded to concerns raised by an environmental group about Dow Chemical’s $10 million gift to the university.

The Ecology Center wants the university to release more details about the agreement between Dow and the U of M. In a press release, The Ecology Center’s Tracy Easthope urged the University “to make public the details of this gift, including whether the gift comes with strings attached.”

Fitzgerald said the University of Michigan has lots of partnerships with corporate funded research and other corporate philanthropy and has a “long track record of working very effectively with corporate partners in research projects.”

“We never turn over control of any research opportunities to the donors,” said Fitzgerald. “The program itself is directed by Don Scavia, the special counsel to the U of M President for Sustainability… and the program will continue to be directed by him and by the University of Michigan, and certainly when it comes to any curriculum development, that remains solely the responsibility of the U of M faculty and staff.”

Fitzgerald said there would be “a loaned employee from Dow” who would serve as a link between the U of M program and Dow Chemical, and who would provide some other program support.

Fitzgerald said if people are interested in the details, they are available upon request from the U of M’s public affairs department, the U of M’s Freedom of Information Office, or through Don Scavia’s office. Michigan Radio has requested a copy of the agreement.

“I think this is an exciting program,” said Fitzgerald. “It’s a great example of corporate philanthropy at the University of Michigan and we think it will be managed well and effectively to the benefit of society.”

2:12 p.m.

Environmental health director at the Ecology Center Tracy Easthope is calling on the University of Michigan to release the details behind Dow Chemical's gift to the university

It was announced yesterday that Dow will give U of M $10 million to establish a sustainability fellowship program.

The program will support the work of around 300 masters, doctoral, and post-doctoral students for a period of six years. From the University of Michigan:

Fellows will develop knowledge and seek breakthroughs across myriad components of the sustainability challenge, including human behavior, energy, water, mobility, climate change, built environment, land use, and global health.

In a statement, Easthope said, “while a major gift to further sustainability education is laudable, it is important to assure the complete independence of the University... We urge the University to make public the details of this gift, including whether the gift comes with strings attached.”

The group cites a University of California at Berkeley case as cause for concern. They say, after a giving a gift to U.C. Berkeley, a Dow Chemical employee was hired into a position where he teaches students - raising questions of academic independence.

From the Ecology Center's press release:

Dow Chemical is a global leader in manufacturing chemicals, some of which have problematic health and environmental attributes. Dow’s advocacy to continue production of these problematic chemicals suggests the company’s definition of sustainability is not in agreement with the mainstream.

“Dow is responsible for one of the largest contamination sites in Michigan, stretching more than 50 miles to Saginaw Bay and into Lake Huron,” said Rita Chapman, clean-water program director at the Sierra Club. “Until recently, they have delayed cleanup action, which has put people’s health at risk.”

Michele Hurd of the Lone Tree Council has been closely involved in the fight to get Dow Chemical to clean up its dioxin contamination in Michigan. In the release, she says "Dow has not earned a major voice in sustainability education."

A phone call was made to the University of Michigan for comment.