Coalition seeks Board of Trustees vote on fossil fuel divestment


Leading up to the Pitt Board of Trustees quarterly meeting on Feb. 28, several groups have been pressuring the board to move ahead with divesting the University’s $4.3 billion endowment from fossil fuel-related businesses.

On Jan. 28, four alumni met privately with Pitt administrators at the Cathedral of Learning seeking a vote on divestment at this month’s meeting. At the same time, about two dozen members of the Fossil-Free Pitt Coalition held a rally outside.

“As a graduate student who has come to love the University of Pittsburgh community, I believe that divestment from fossil fuels is one of the strongest ways the University can show that its virtues align with those of the community as a whole,” said Prem Rajgopal, a Fossil-Free Pitt organizer said in a statement. “By continuing to invest in fossil fuels, the university administration is acting completely out of line with the ideals of promoting a sustainable community.”

On Feb. 13, the coalition held another rally on the Bigelow Boulevard side of the Cathedral of Learning as part of Fossil Fuel Divestment Day, a global event.

The coalition has been encouraging Pitt to divest from coal, oil, gas and related industries for several years. Following the release of a report from the chancellor’s Committee on Socially Responsible Investment last summer, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said in August that he and other Pitt administrators will explore alternative investment strategies for the University.

But ultimately, the decision on investments lies with the Board of Trustees, Gallagher has said several times. The board has reserved the power to make substantial changes to the University’s investments to itself, he said in October, because the board has an important “balancing act” to maintain the endowment. Investments should be “as aligned with our core values as possible,” Gallagher said, while also maintaining a steady income.

After the meeting in January with the alumni, the University said, in a statement, “This work is ongoing and includes discussions like the one we had today with four alumni, who shared their ideas and concerns about divesting from fossil fuels. The conversation was productive and informative — and part of a larger dialogue that our community is currently and actively engaged in. During the meeting, Pitt leadership listened to the alumni and reiterated the institution’s commitment to exploring the topic.”

A vote at the February Board of Trustees meetings seems unlikely at this point. Any changes would first have to go before the board’s investment committee.

Pitt, in its statement, also reiterated its commitment to “being a leader in sustainability and doing our part in combating global climate change. Some of the many steps that Pitt has already taken on this front include: Establishing an Office of Sustainability, realizing a 22.2 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions since 2008; utilizing local low-impact hydropower that will provide about 25 percent of our annual electricity usage; and working to reduce energy and water usage in line with Pittsburgh 2030 District goals.”

Several universities are already moving to divest from fossil fuel-related investments. On Feb. 6, Georgetown University announced that it will divest from fossil-fuel companies within 10 years. The transition from fossil fuels will help the university prevent "the most dangerous effects of climate change," Michael Barry, the university’s chief investment officer, said in a statement.

In September, the University of California system said it had already divested all fossil-fuel investments from its endowment and that its pension fund would soon be fossil fuel free. In October, the University of Pennsylvania voted to divest Penn's entire $14.7 billion endowment from fossil fuel-related industries.

It’s not just educational institutions that are looking at socially responsible investing. Earlier this month, Pittsburgh's Comprehensive Municipal Pension Trust Fund board voted to form a committee to explore divesting from fossil fuels, firearms manufacturers and for-profit prisons, according to the Post-Gazette.

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at or 412-648-4294.


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