Editorial: Board needs to be more transparent about divestment process

Pitt’s Board of Trustees during a public meeting in November.

The Fossil Free Pitt Coalition has been staging a sit-in in the first floor commons area of the Cathedral of Learning since last Friday — their most drastic protest to date. The coalition has occupied about half of the commons, propping up signs on one side of the room with messages like “We’re still here. Ask us why” and “Divest.”

This sit-in aims to get the attention of the University’s Board of Trustees and push them to vote to divest Pitt’s endowment from fossil fuels alongside their votes on related issues this Friday. The sit-in is the latest in a string of protests by the FFPC, which has so far largely been met with inaction from the University’s Board of Trustees.

Pitt’s Board of Trustees needs to remedy this inaction and be more transparent and timely about the road to divestment.

Pitt shared topics for the Board meeting this time around in a statement provided to The Pitt News responding to FFPC’s demands for a vote on divestment. This Friday, the Board will consider proposals made by Chancellor Patrick Gallagher based on the findings of Pitt’s Socially Responsible Investing Committee in the summer of 2019, including an update that would allow the public to comment on socially responsible investing processes and a resolution that would support Pitt’s goal to achieve carbon neutrality.

But this is not usually the case. Oftentimes, the date of an upcoming Board meeting is simply announced on the University events calendar, with no further information about what will be discussed. The meetings are usually not promoted elsewhere.

The University response to calls for divestment has been in the works since January 2018 when Chancellor Patrick Gallagher first unveiled plans for a Socially Responsible Investment Committee — a group designed to examine the benefits and drawbacks of socially responsible investing, as well as considerations in developing investing strategies. The group was meant to study the issue before presenting their analysis to the Board of Trustees and the wider Pitt community to then prompt a decision.

“Our goal in exploring this approach was to determine if we could better align activities in our endowment’s investment portfolio with the values that are important to our University community,” Gallagher wrote in an August 2019 statement after SRIC released its findings. The chancellor then charged Chief Financial Officer Hari Sastry with developing a “positive” screening process for possible investments for the Investment Committee of the Board of Trustees, as well as a “negative” screening process for “proposed investment exclusions” — or investments the University might divest from — for the full Board of Trustees.

Besides the lack of transparency, the board is also moving far too slowly on the road to divestment. It has been two years since Gallagher introduced the SRIC as a way to study more sustainable investments, and the Board of Trustees seems prepared to take another half-measure this Friday in creating another process to evaluate fossil-fuel divestment. It is incredibly urgent that they start to move on this process more quickly, especially as this past January was the hottest on record.

If Pitt truly wants to create a more sustainable future — both for itself as well as for the greater community — it is imperative that they speed up their divestment process.

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