Freeport Files

Information about the controversy surrounding the naming of the Jim Bob Moffett Molecular Biology Building at the University of Texas at Austin (UT), named after the chairman of Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold.


Overview

In 1997, the University of Texas at Austin had a new addition: the Louise and James Robert ("Jim Bob") Moffett Molecular Biology Building, named after a couple who have since suffered a reportedly acrimonious divorce, which is located at Speedway and Dean Keeton Streets. In the years leading up to the building's opening, students and professors heavily protested against the decision by the Board of Regents to name such an important building on campus after a large contributor to the University. In the early 1990s, through Open Records Requests, the student publication Polemicist uncovered how then-UT System Chancellor William ('Dollar Bill') Cunningham sat on Freeport's board, where he was paid to attend meetings, creating what some called a conflict of interest.

Most of the outrage on campus, which lasted for years, came over Freeport's company practices. In the early 1990s, Freeport was looking to develop an environmentally sensitive area in Austin, Texas, known as the Barton Creek Watershed. (Jim Bob was teaming up with Robert Dedman of ClubCorp. for the proposal). Even more enraging for most, though, was Freeport in Indonesia. Word came that Freeport, which had been in Indonesia since it was taken over by Suharto, a ruthless dictator in the mid-1960s, was paying off the Indonesia government in exchange for a) business in the country, with the world's largest mine; b) protection from the Indonesian government against revolutionary freedom fighters in East Timor; and c) turning a blind eye to environmentally dangerous practices, specifically dumping tons upon tons of the mine's tailings into local waterways.

At UT, questions were first raised over a sketchy deal through which UT professors and graduate students in the Geology Department of the College of Natural Sciences, which is now its own college at UT, were sent to survey Freeport's land in Indonesia for 10 years. Then, after three professors - Robert S. Boyer (not to be confused with Robert E. Boyer), Steven Feld, and Alan Cline - began questioning the company's practices, Freeport threatened them with lawsuits, claiming libel. A total of 7 individuals were sent such letters, including soon-to-be Austin City Council member Daryl Slusher.

The debate became much larger than simply UT-Austin. Many asked the appropriate role that corporations, especially those with morally questionable practices, ought to play at universities. Some said: "Now, if we start turning down donors, good luck finding $3 million lying around, and like hell if anyone wants their tuition raised further ... Moffett is just a name. Build the building." Others asked why the building-naming policy on campus, which stipulated that a person must be dead for 5 years, should be waived since a man put forth $3 million for a $25 million facility. Some asked if it'd be appropriate to name the building for the Indonesian dictator who killed many of his own people, or even Saddam Hussein.

In the end, the administration got its way - despite the resignation of famed professor Steven Feld - and the building was erected and even included a Freeport McMoRan wing. This building, despite the end of the debate, will continue as a black mark against UT, which chose money and connections over academic freedom and an ethical learning environment.

 


"It is not enough to tell me that you worked hard to get your gold. So does the Devil work hard. The way of transgressors may be hard in many respects."
   -- Thoreau, Life without Principle



    Disclaimer: This section of the website is the former website of Computer Sciences Professor Robert S. Boyer, and it is posted without his permission. This section is published in accordance with 'fair use' policies, as provided by Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107. The material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

Contents

Recommended Reads

Opinions on Freeport and UT, including:

Resolutions passed by UT student and faculty groups, and the administrative reaction thereto:

 

UT comp sci prof Alan Cline addresses West Mall
  • Pieces about and minutes of the Faculty Council Meeting of February 19, 1996. UT computer sciences professor Alan Cline addresses a rally on the West Mall prior to the Faculty Council meeting of February 19, 1996, which voted to ask for a new name for the building. Photo from the Daily Texan.

    The Faculty Council meeting passed this resolution:

    Resolved, That the Faculty Council ask Chancellor Cunningham and the Board of Regents to discuss with James Robert and Louise Moffett the possibility of their voluntarily assenting to a change in the proposed name of the molecular biology building from the James Robert and Louise Moffett Building.

  • In reaction to the Faculty Council resolution the Deans' Council issued a statement asking the chancellor and Board of Regents not to seek a new name for the building while Law School Dean Sharlot charged that the Faculty Council acted like a kangaroo court.
  • Chancellor Cunningham and the Regents say NO to the Faculty Council

 

Photo of Amungme leader Tom Beanal with U. S. Rep. Tom Lantos.

A picture from the front page of the July 13 issue of the Jakarta Post, in which Indonesian dictator (and genocidal mass murder) Suharto pins the development medal of merit on the chest of Freeport-McMoRan CEO Jim Bob Moffett. Austin Chronicle, September 12, 1997.

Sunset for President Suharto. New York Times, editorial, Friday, May 15, 1998. "It is now clear that recovery cannot begin as long as President Suharto remains in power ... He can spare Indonesia further turmoil by yielding office to a government that quickly sets a date for free and fair elections.''

"Take for example the gigantic exploitation of our mining resources by PT Freeport in Irian Jaya (West Papua). The environment of the province is in the process of being destroyed. Between 1973 and 1997, the company has excavated 1,650 tons of gold, giving them an estimated revenue of Rp 400 trillion. The sad thing is we don't even have access to the company's bookkeeping. So, the most important thing for us to do is to protect our forests, our land and our oil resources, so they're not robbed further." Amien Rais, Indonesian Moslem leader, Jakarta Post, Oct. 14, 1997. (Two years later, Rais became the leader of one of the houses of the Indonesian legislature.)