Trustees’ committee on fossil fuel divestment plans public forums


The Board of Trustees’ ad-hoc committee on fossil fuel investments in Pitt’s endowment has finalized its membership and plans to hold public forums in October. A draft report for community and public comment will be posted on the board’s website in December 2020 or January 2021.

Protests over whether to divest Pitt’s $4.3 billion consolidated endowment fund of all investments related to fossil fuels have been brewing for several years and came to a head in February. Students with the Fossil-Free Pitt Coalition held a sit-in at the Cathedral of Learning for several days, alumni supporting the coalition met with Pitt administrators to discuss the issue, and the coalition staged a protest at the quarterly Board of Trustees on Feb. 29, following a similar action at the board’s October 2019 meeting.

The ad-hoc committee's chair Dawne Hickton, executive vice president at Jacobs Engineering Group, gave a report on the committee’s work to the Sept. 25 Board of Trustees meeting. She said they’ve already had four meetings and heard from members of the Fossil Free Pitt Coalition and from Greg Schuler, the University’s chief investment officer.

They plan more meetings throughout the fall with investment officers from other universities, foundations and private firms. She said they are working under a "compressed and intensive schedule.”

In January 2018, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher formed a committee to look at socially responsible investing. That committee released its report in July 2019. It found three main factors for University administrators to consider:

  1. The importance of an identified social issue to the University community.

  2. If and how a socially responsible investing (SRI) decision would affect an identified social issue.

  3. If and how an SRI decision would impact the institution’s long-term financial health.

The report, though, only gives more information to the Board of Trustees, which ultimately has the sole power to make substantial changes to the University’s investments. Gallagher has reiterated this point over the past two years, saying the board has an important “balancing act” to maintain the endowment. Investments should be “as aligned with our core values as possible,” Gallagher said in October 2019, while also maintaining a steady income.

At the February meeting, the Board of Trustees unanimously approved a formal socially responsible investing process, which gives the chancellor a pathway to bring issues from the Pitt community surrounding SRI to the board. This process is what led to the ad-hoc committee that will look at divesting from fossil fuels.

The committee is charged with providing “options on whether, to what extent, and via what methods the University, in its endowment, should consider divestment from fossil fuels in existing and/or future investments.”

The dates of the October public forums will be released later this month. The committee also is meeting with invited internal and external experts throughout September and will release their names and affiliations as they are interviewed.

The committee's members include:

  • Sundaa Bridgett-Jones, managing director for policy and coalitions at the Rockefeller Foundation

  • Edward Grefenstette, president, CEO and chief investment officer of the Dietrich Foundation

  • Diane Holder, president and CEO of UPMC Health Plan

  • John Maher III, former member of the state House, representing Allegheny and Washington counties

  • Marlee Myers, managine partner at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP

  • Herbert Shear, former CEO of logistics company GENCO

Hari Sastry, Pitt’s chief financial officer, will act as a liaison to the committee, and Aurora Sharrard, Pitt’s sustainability director, and Natalie Carter, of the Office of Finance, will support him.

The board at its February meeting also committed to carbon neutrality by 2037. Then in March, the University quietly released its Environmental, Social and Governance Policy Statement in response to issues of socially responsible investing of Pitt’s endowment.

The full document is available on the website of Pitt’s chief financial officer, but the core statement is, “In sum, the OOF (Office of Finance) commits to fully integrating ESG (environmental, social and governance) factors into the University’s decision-making processes, on the core belief that supporting responsible business practices also supports strong investment outcomes.”

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


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