Geographer quits society in Shell protest

January 17, 1997

The academic who last year proposed that the Royal Geographical Society-Institute of British Geographers drop Shell as a corporate sponsor has announced his decision to resign from the society a month after it voted overwhelmingly to retain Shell's sponsorship, writes Olga Wojtas.

David Gilbert, of London University's Royal Holloway College, made his announcement during a debate on geography and ethics at the RGS-IBG annual conference at Exeter University.

He successfully proposed a motion at last year's annual conference at Strathclyde University to sever links with the company following the execution of Nigerian environmental activists who had campaigned against Shell's activities in their homeland. But a special general meeting of the RGS-IBG has now backed Shell by 4,309 votes to 1,509.

Dr Gilbert said he felt continued membership of the society was compromising his teaching as he presented his vision of geography's moral and ethical framework to undergraduates.

Opposition to Shell's sponsorship has emerged principally from within the former IBG, the professional academic body which merged two years ago with the larger RGS after a 60-year split.

Rita Gardner, director of the RGS-IBG, said the merger would be reviewed over the next year, and it was important for academics to be involved in the consultations.

* The geography panel in the research assessment exercise has warned the higher education funding councils that the discipline must not suffer financially because of its interdisciplinary links.

Kenneth Gregory, warden of Goldsmiths College and chairman of the geography research assessment panel, said at the conference that the United Kingdom was among the top five countries in terms of interdisciplinary research in geography.

But he had written to the funding councils urging that funding should be linked to the number of submissions received, since some might have been submitted to other panels in the past, and resources for geography would be spread more thinly if this were not taken into account.

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