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Princeton in the service of fossil fuels

Divest Princeton Stand-in at CPUC.
Angel Kuo / The Daily Princetonian

The following is a guest contribution and reflects the author’s views alone. For information on how to submit an article to the Opinion Section, click here.

“Princeton in the nation’s service and the service of humanity.” Every year, thousands of students applying to the University are asked to explain how this motto fits with their lives. But does Princeton live up to this standard? Surprisingly, the University has finally and very quietly revealed information to help answer this question. Unsurprisingly, the University’s investments, research funding, and corporate recruitment events don’t intersect with those ideals; they are in direct opposition to the University’s values of service and civic engagement.


At the Council of the Princeton University Community (CPUC) meeting on March 21, we were finally told how much of Princeton’s endowment is invested in fossil fuel companies. $1.7 billion. Billion. 4.5 percent of the entire endowment. That’s more than twice as much as Harvard has invested in fossil fuels, and their endowment is even larger than Princeton’s! To put this in context, Princeton invests the equivalent of over $200,000 per student in fossil fuels. In addition to being the industry responsible for the destruction of the planet, the volatile and risky fossil fuel industry is no longer a prudent investment. 

Furthermore, “approximately” 50 fossil fuel companies actively recruit students on campus. There should be “approximately” zero fossil fuel companies actively recruiting on campus. Students are free to work for whomever they want to, but inviting those companies to campus is an endorsement. Princeton career fairs should be the start of students’ careers “in the service of humanity,” not a recruitment opportunity for climate deniers looking to hire future liars.

Finally, Princeton researchers have received 26 million dollars in funding from 11 fossil fuel companies over the past five years, with large amounts from BP and Exxon, some of the most infamous companies to lie to Congress and the world. This is only about five million dollars of research funding per year. To put that in perspective, the Annual Giving campaign last year alone raised over 68 million dollars. Princeton doesn’t need these partnerships, but you know who does? Fossil fuel companies trying to greenwash their reputations. Would Princeton allow tobacco companies to fund lung cancer research? No. So why should we allow fossil fuel companies to fund “sustainability” projects?

“Princeton has a longstanding commitment to service and civic engagement” is part of the supplemental essay question about service. Let’s correct the record. Princeton has a longstanding commitment to serving the fossil fuel industry and enabling the companies that are destroying our planet. But it’s not too late for the University. That essay question includes a caveat, asking an applicant of a University that hasn’t met that ideal in the past how they “will intersect with these ideals” in the future. Princeton, it’s time to divest in the service of humanity.

Nate Howard is a first-year from Princeton, NJ. He is a prospective sociology concentrator and co-coordinator of Divest Princeton. He can be reached at