Dear Members of the Brown Community,

I am inviting the Brown community to offer feedback on a set of recommendations to amend the University’s business ethics practices.

The Advisory Committee on University Resource Management (ACURM) has developed the recommendations in response to a proposal from the Scholars at Brown for Climate Action (SBCA), a group of faculty, staff and students who advocate for addressing climate change. The SBCA proposes that Brown take action to set new standards, and amend and clarify policies to prevent support and/or association with organizations that knowingly promote science disinformation.

Specifically, the SBCA proposal — developed in November 2021 and later amended in January 2022 — requests that Brown amend its “Code of Business Ethics” (which deals with procurement and conflict of interest practices) to avoid “doing business with organizations that knowingly undermine science or science-based policy, nor do business with organizations that advance disinformation, including directly and indirectly receiving such support.” The SBCA proposal submitted to ACURM specifies that an amended University policy would also apply to the acceptance of gifts and grants, with the exception of funds that support faculty research.

In a concept note supplementing its proposal, the SBCA outlined a protocol for “identifying organizations and supporters of climate denial.” The SBCA recommends either that Brown set up an internal process for identifying organizations that deny or delay action on climate change, or that a consortium of universities and non-profits be charged with this task.

ACURM RECOMMENDATIONS

ACURM’s charge is to consider how ethical and moral standards are applied across all of the University’s business and investment practices in a manner consistent with Brown’s mission and values. In accordance with this charge, ACURM is asked to consider requests when there is considerable, thoughtful and sustained interest on an issue core to the University’s values and publicly report its findings annually.

ACURM’s recommendations are advisory to the President and (for proposed policy changes that require Corporation approval) the Brown University Corporation. Following several months of deliberations, ACURM has reviewed SBCA’s proposals and shared with me a report, including the following three recommendations:

  1. Amend the Business Ethics Policy to indicate Brown’s refusal to do business with organizations that knowingly undermine science or science-based policy, or support organizations that advance climate science disinformation.
  2. Maintain the University’s existing Gift Acceptance Policy, which implicitly requires the same ethical standard of engagement as the newly amended Business Ethics Policy.
  3. Move forward with the creation of a clearinghouse for actions against organizations and funders that seek to deny climate change, or delay climate change with the intention of a) perpetuating climate science disinformation or b) supporting organizations that advance climate science disinformation.

ACURM’s response to the SBCA proposal recommends that the University focus on organizations that knowingly and directly undermine science. In addition, it includes a discussion of a number of the practical and epistemological problems associated with defining “science denial” and “misinformation”; the need to preserve academic freedom; and the risks of conflating the political orientation of organizations (i.e. liberal versus conservative) with their possible embrace of scientific disinformation.

For members of the community interested in providing feedback on the recommendations, I encourage you to carefully review SBCA’s requests and ACURM’s recommendations in full. Comments may be submitted anonymously and will be collected until Friday, March 11, 2022.

All materials, as well as the feedback form, can be found on the Petitions and Recommendations section of ACURM’s website:

https://acurm.brown.edu/reports#petitions-recommendations

In addition to providing written comments on these recommendations, community members will have the opportunity to engage in discussion and provide additional feedback on the recommendations in upcoming forums. I invite all members of Brown community to attend the next meeting of the Brown University Community Council for a discussion of the recommendations. The meeting will be held virtually Thursday, March 3, at 4 p.m. Also, as announced at yesterday’s Faculty Meeting, the Faculty Executive Committee will host a Faculty Commons on this topic on Friday, March 18, at 12 p.m.

The feedback I receive will help inform a decision on ACURM’s recommendations. Thank you in advance for your contributions to a community conversation about the University’s business ethics policies and practices.

Sincerely,

Christina H. Paxson

President

 

Related Links:

SBCA Proposal and ACURM Recommendations:

https://acurm.brown.edu/reports#petitions-recommendations

 

Feedback form:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeqLf6QSXHii6un0XfXp4NwrXkPDxD75l2dTcvRuY8bib932g/viewform?usp=sf_link

 

Advisory Committee on University Resource Management:

https://acurm.brown.edu

 

Brown’s Business Ethics and procurement standards:

https://www.brown.edu/about/administration/purchasing/about/procurement-standards/business-ethics

 

Brown Conflict of Interest and Commitment Policy:

https://policy.brown.edu/policy/coic