Harvard Law School professor and environmental law expert Jody L. Freeman has resigned from the board of directors of oil and natural gas company ConocoPhillips after Harvard affiliates and climate activists condemned her ties to the company.
Climate activists and a group of her former students called on Freeman to leave the ConocoPhillips board in a letter to the Harvard Law Record after the company’s Willow project — an $8 billion oil drilling venture in Alaska — was approved by the Biden administration in March.
Activism group Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard published an open letter to Freeman on their website that month, writing that the Willow project was evidence that Freeman’s efforts to “reform ConocoPhillips from the inside” were failing.
In an emailed statement to The Crimson at the time, Freeman wrote that she believed her work at the company was “positive” and that she joined the board to “help advance the transition to a low-carbon economy.”
Freeman, who founded the Law School’s Environmental and Energy Law Program and co-chairs Harvard’s Presidential Committee on Sustainability, was a member of ConocoPhillips’ board for 11 years. She received more than $350,000 in total compensation annually from the company.
In an announcement posted to her personal website Thursday, Freeman wrote that she left ConocoPhillips to prioritize research and “make space for some new opportunities.” She said she hopes to focus more on her work at the Environmental and Energy Law Program and write a book about “our environmental challenges and how we can make faster progress.”
“I learned a lot from my decade-long board service, think I made a positive difference, and am glad I did it,” Freeman wrote in the statement. “I will continue to engage in work beyond the university to address climate change and promote clean energy.”
Freeman declined a request to comment further, referring back to the statement on her website.
In April, the Guardian and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism jointly reported on 2021 email communications between Freeman and Harvard Law School professor John C. Coates IV, then set to become acting director of the Securities and Exchange Commission's Division of Corporate Finance.
The Guardian wrote that the emails revealed Freeman “lobbied” the SEC on behalf of ConocoPhillips, which Freeman disputed in a statement posted to her personal website.
“I did not request or initiate any meeting,” Freeman wrote, adding that she had connected Coates to “knowledgeable people” at ConocoPhillips at his request. Coates also wrote in a public statement that he had reached out to Freeman first and that Freeman “did not request a meeting or ‘lobby’ me or others at the SEC for Conoco.”
In an emailed statement after Freeman’s Thursday announcement, Lola J. DeAscentiis ’26 wrote on behalf of Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard that “Jody Freeman’s resignation from ConocoPhillips shows the power of well-informed public pressure and student organizing.”
“In March 2023, FFDH joined law students and faculty to call on Freeman to choose between her loyalty to ConocoPhillips and her responsibility to Harvard; we are pleased to see that she chose the latter,” DeAscentiis wrote.
Corinne Shanahan, one of Freeman’s former students involved in the Harvard Law Record open letter, wrote in an emailed statement that Freeman’s decision to step down was “a good first step, and a reminder of the power of collective action” and that she urges Freeman to “donate the $3,000,000 she pocketed during her time at ConocoPhillips to organizations fighting for environmental justice.”
“We hope Professor Freeman will condemn the Willow Project and stand with climate activists and allies on the front lines around the world,” Shanahan wrote.
—Staff writer Neil H. Shah can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @neilhshah15.