|Volume 50 Number 8, March 7, 2020||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
On Tuesday, February 25, students and staff of the University of Oxford and other concerned individuals held a protest outside the university's Weston Library in protest at the plans for a new building financed by Blackstone head, Stephen Schwarzman. The protest was held alongside the ongoing strike action at the university and many other universities across the country over pensions, pay, conditions, and the nature and future of higher education.
On the eve of the protest, the Oxford Against Schwarzman campaign said in a statement:
"Tomorrow, at 11am, the University of Oxford is presenting architectural plans for the 'Schwarzman Centre', its flagship humanities building project financed by Blackstone CEO and co-founder Stephen Schwarzman. The session is being held in the Weston Library on a strike day, meaning students and staff are being forced to cross a picket line to attend. This is the latest event in a larger picture of evading scrutiny on the project. Oxford have imposed non-disclosure agreements on the entirety of the negotiations leading up to the £150 million donation for the building, as well as on their internal ethical review of it. The building was announced to the press before faculty boards were consulted, at a time when academics were marking finals, and students were sitting exams. Three consultation meetings have been held over the project; two in summer when staff and students are often out of town, and another in October that was not publicised beyond university staff, and was attended by only seven people. In response to a request made by the Oxford Against Schwarzman campaign through the Student Union, the University recently refused to release documents relating to the vetting of Schwarzman's donation.
"Why is Oxford refusing accountability over the Schwarzman centre?
"We suggest that taking Schwarzman's money is a direct contradiction of the University's guidelines around donations and its stated aims as an institution. Oxford advises its members that funding is only accepted if it 'will not harm the reputation of the University', including money that 'originates from or is associated with unethical activity' (Guidance for University staff for the acceptance of donations and research funding). Meanwhile, in its 2018-2023 Strategic Plan, Oxford aims to 'change the world for the better... by maximising the cultural, social and economic benefit derived from our research regionally, nationally and across the world'.
"This is incompatible with the construction of a 'Stephen A Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities'.
"Stephen Schwarzman has been described as a 'driving force behind Amazon deforestation' (The Intercept, 2019). Blackstone has at least $7 billion invested in fossil fuels, and has backed a number of controversial pipeline projects and fracking ventures through its subsidiaries.
"In addition, Blackstone, one of the biggest landlords in the world with 311,000 residential units worldwide, has been accused by the UN of violating tenants' human rights through its business practices. In the UK, Blackstone have been steadily muscling into the housing market, with their 2017 acquisition of social housing provider Sage Housing, followed last year by the purchase of thousands of railway arches from national rail. Finally, Stephen Schwarzman is a known friend, adviser and donor to Donald Trump, described as 'one of President Trump's most respected and reliable allies in high finance' (The New York Times, 2017). Schwarzman's political interests were piqued at the Koch brothers' donor summits, where, as a key donor, he aided the circulation and legitimization of hard-right ideas through donations to academic and cultural institutions. (Jane Mayer, Dark Money).
"Besides this, the University has so far failed to release any details as to the long-term sustainability of the project. There has been no information about plans for the empty buildings that will be left by the centralisation of Humanities faculties, no costing of the upkeep of the large building (a major drain on the university's finances) and, damningly, no public assurances over the jobs of academic staff that will be affected by the loss of separate humanities faculties.
"On February 13, Oxford announced that Hopkins Architects had been appointed to design the 'Schwarzman Centre'. Karen O'Brien, Head of the Humanities Division, noted the firm's credentials for environmental sustainability as a key factor in their selection. The irony of this should be lost on no-one. With Schwarzman's pay package coming largely in the form of stock dividends, the 'Schwarzman Centre' is being directly funded by the profits of environmental destruction through Blackstone's investments.
"We're opposing the 'Schwarzman Centre', and invite others to do the same, until the University can demonstrate an accountable and transparent ethical framework to which donations such as Schwarzman's can be subjected. The 'Stephen A. Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities' will be built with the proceeds of the exploitation and disenfranchisement of vulnerable people across the world. The University of Oxford is seeking to evade scrutiny over its complicity in these practices through this project. For that reason, we'll be protesting in the main hall of the Weston Library before the architectural meeting, refusing to allow Oxford to drag the Schwarzman 'donation' behind closed doors."
For further information, see:
The university's plans:
Initial open letter from our campaign: https://tinyurl.com/y5uxmtq5
UCU motion in support of the campaign: https://oxforducu.org.uk/index.php?p=70
Recent news: https://tinyurl.com/tkjjste