Forum attendees want Pitt’s endowment out of fossil fuels


Members of the Pitt community had a clear message for the Socially Responsible Investing Committee on Nov. 19: divest Pitt’s endowment from fossil fuels.

Roughly 40 faculty, staff, students, alumni and other community members gathered at the committee’s second open forum, where they told members that Pitt should avoid investing in fossil fuels, private prisons and weapons manufacturers.

The committee was formed last year to help inform Chancellor Patrick Gallagher on socially responsible investment strategies for Pitt’s $4 billion endowment.

A majority of the audience focused on the dangers of fossil fuels, which multiple studies have concluded to be a main contributor to climate change.

The federal government released the National Climate Assessment on Nov. 23, which determined that inaction on climate change would be devastating to the U.S. economy, infrastructure and public health.

Speakers frequently referred to the report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which said countries have 12 years to make sweeping changes to environmental policies to prevent irreparable damage to the environment.

Attendees also brought up a report published in The Guardian last year, which named Pitt as one of several universities that invested in Energy Capital Fund IX-C, or EnCap, a hedge fund based in the Cayman Islands.

According to that report, Pitt invested roughly a third of its then-$3.5 billion endowment into EnCap, and $26 million of that investment went into fossil fuel industries.

Many used this report as a call for greater transparency from Pitt related to how it invests its endowment, especially since Pitt has multiple ongoing sustainability initiatives.

Ayres Freitas, an associate professor in Pitt’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, said Pitt needs to focus on attracting future leaders with its investment strategies.

“If we truly want to be leaders, we have to take a different approach and basically be an example in how we invest our money for the future world that we think will be more equitable, more sustainable and fairer,” Freitas said.

Marianne Novy, a professor emerita with Pitt’s English Department, said Americans are already seeing the effects of climate change in extreme weather events, such as the recent California wildfires and hurricanes that ravaged Puerto Rico, Florida and Texas.

“There are a lot of different dimensions in which we are seeing the effects of climate change already,” Novy said. “And we'll be seeing more of them in the near future unless everybody, really, literally gets together to do whatever it is that we can. And as a university, we are in a position to make some kind of impact on this.”

As for the committee’s next steps following the forum, David Denis, committee chair and faculty member in the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business, said there’s no specific timetable set for getting a report to Gallagher.

The process, he added, requires a lot of information to be collected and compiled, but the committee will be open to any other information from members of the community.

He’s hoping the committee will bring Gallagher a report “sometime in this academic year.”

“This is a relatively big project,” Denis said. “It's obviously a project that is near and dear to all of the people in this room, but also outside this room as well. So, we're taking it very seriously.”

Community members who were unable to attend one of the forums can share their answers via an online portal created and maintained by the committee, which is accepting input through Dec. 31.  

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