Gallagher: Endowment report to be released soon


Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor

Pitt's Board of Trustees may discuss fossil fuel divestment at Friday's meeting.

By Jon Moss, News Editor

In an interview after Friday’s board of trustees meeting, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said he received a report from Pitt’s Socially Responsible Investment Committee and will release it before students return for the fall semester. The committee was formed in 2017 to research socially responsible ways to invest the University’s endowment.

Gallagher said he is “pleased” with the report and is ready to engage with different groups to look into tweaking the investment portfolio of the University’s endowment portfolio based on the report’s recommendations.

“It depends what the specific actions are. Some of this is input on the investment side, right. So the expertise would be from the experts in investment and the investment committee, and so forth,” Gallagher said. “Some of it is policy and programs we can do as a University and those would be either a working group or something like that.”

In recent years, Pitt has been under pressure from student groups to divest its endowment from fossil fuel investments. According to The Guardian, part of Pitt’s endowment as of November 2017 was invested in EnCap Energy Capital Fund IX-C, a Cayman Islands hedge fund, which was revealed in the Paradise Papers scandal last year.

The Fossil Free Pitt Coalition, the main activist group pushing for divestment, said it urged the University to take the report’s findings “seriously” and work “judiciously” with students and community members to make changes to the University’s endowment.

“Where the University invests its endowment shows where its priorities lie,” the statement said. “Pitt’s current investments in fossil fuels reveal that the University is prioritizing profit over the health and wellbeing of Western Pennsylvanian communities and placing investment returns over a livable global future.”

The statement added that the coalition believes two of its four asks have been accomplished — divesting the endowment’s direct holdings in Carbon Underground’s Top 200 list and institutionalizing a collaborative process between administrators and the University community.

The remaining two asks are to freeze new investments in the Top 200 list and to divest and screen the endowment’s direct holdings and commingled funds from the entire fossil-fuel industry within five years.

“Fossil Free Pitt Coalition remains committed to increasing transparency at the University, working towards fossil fuel divestment, and working towards climate justice and a just transition,” the statement said.

The Coalition sent a letter on April 3 to Gallagher requesting he provide an update about the University’s work towards divestment. In an April 10 response to the letter, Gallagher said Pitt is taking a multi-pronged approach to dealing with how to invest the University’s endowment.

Gallagher said the University’s main investment strategy is set by the Board of Trustees’ investment committee. But Gallagher added that, separately, the University Office of Finance is working on an environment, social and governance policy which would be incorporated into the process of selecting funds and managers for the endowment.

Anaïs Peterson — a senior urban studies major, executive vice president for SGB and member of the Fossil Free Pitt Coalition — said she is “thrilled” that the report will be released soon and will continue efforts to harness student support to push Pitt to divest.

“I strongly believe that investments in an industry which have created the climate crisis are not socially responsible investments and I hope that this report is clear in calling on the University to move their money out of unethical investments,” Peterson said. “I look forward to reading the report and continuing to work swiftly towards a socially responsible investment strategy which represents the wishes of students, faculty and administration.”

But divestment is gaining traction with other area investment funds — Mayor Bill Peduto announced on June 5 that he would like the City to divest its pension fund from fossil fuel, firearms and for-profit prison companies. In a letter to the Comprehensive Municipal Pension Trust Fund, the seven-member board which controls the fund, on which the Mayor sits, Peduto said that the City has a history of using “both moral and financial authority.”

“The City’s leadership as a socially responsible investor has helped to advance just causes and helped to lead to formative social change,” Peduto said. “A similar time is upon us to act and provide leadership.”

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