Fossil fuel divestment protestors confront Board of Trustees at Pitt-Johnstown


Amid student fossil fuel divestment protests, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher praised Pitt’s recent affordability efforts, institutional achievements and more at the fall Board of Trustees meeting on Sept. 27 at Pitt–Johnstown.

Just before Gallagher began his annual report to the board, students representing the Fossil Free Pitt Coalition, which is pressing Pitt to divest from fossil fuel investments, stood and read prepared speeches demanding that the board work quickly to change Pitt’s investing habits. 

Law enforcement promptly removed the protesters from the building as board chair Eva Tansky Blum repeatedly told protesters they were out of order and that there are proper channels to reach the board.

This comes after Gallagher announced in August that Pitt would explore socially responsible investment strategies following the July release of the Socially Responsible Investment Committee’s report.

The Student Government Board on Oct. 1 voted to unanimously to support the fossil fuel divestment movement, according to the Pitt News. In September, the University of California system announced it was divesting itself of fossil fuel investments from its nearly $84 billion pension and endowment funds because they are a financial risk.

After the meeting, Gallagher said one part of the ongoing conversation about socially responsible investment decisions is figuring out how to create “a clear pathway” for students to present arguments to the board, which doesn’t have public comment periods in its meetings.

He said the plans for this are under development along with specific investment strategies. He expects to have a process identified for students before the next Board of Trustees meeting, which will be in February.

Following the brief protests, Gallagher announced in his annual report that in the 2018-19 school year, Pitt continued to break records, including the most diverse undergraduate class, a record 367 discoveries disclosed and 162 licenses and options executed in the Innovation Institute.

Gallagher said these and other recent accessibility initiatives helped Pitt climb from 70th in overall rankings in the 2019 U.S. News & World Report to 57th in the 2020 report.

Recent affordability programs such as Pitt Success Pell Match and Panthers Forward brought the University’s investment into financial aid across all campuses to $130 million.

However, these initiatives are just the beginning of the process to make Pitt more affordable.

“It is also important to emphasize that as significant as Pitt Success is, and, remind you, it was the largest single restructuring of financial aid since we became a state-related university, it is still not enough,” Gallagher said. “But it is a very significant first step.”

The annual report will go to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf next, Gallagher said after the meeting. The chancellor said that even though there have been some tough times recently, often prompted by the current, tense political environment, Pitt will continue to push through.

“It’s been a great year for Pitt, we can tell you that,” Gallagher said. “It doesn’t say life is easy out there. There’s a lot of challenges happening there. But we’re facing them from a position of a lot of strength.”

The board also approved several resolutions from the Governance and Nominating Committee, including the re-election Trustee Herbert S. Shear, amendments to University bylaws on term limits and tenure evaluations and revisions of committee mission statements.

The next Board of Trustees meeting is scheduled for Feb. 28, 2020.

Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at or 412-383-9905.


Have a story idea or news to share? Share it with the University Times.

Follow the University Times on Twitter and Facebook.