Pitzer College President Laura Skandera Trombley announced Saturday, April 12 that the college will divest nearly all its endowment from fossil fuel funds by the end of this year. Divestment, which Pitzer’s Board of Trustees approved unanimously April 5, is part of a larger climate action plan that the college is undertaking. Pitzer is the first college to divest in Southern California, and—with an endowment of $125 million—has the largest endowment of any institution to divest to date.
The announcement, made at a press conference in Los Angeles, came after the Board of Trustees postponed making a decision last October, instead creating a task force composed of students and faculty and staff members to further consider Pitzer’s approach to climate change. Pitzer trustee Donald Gould PO ’79, who spoke on Saturday, served as the chairman of the task force.
“It is remarkable—both the breadth of what we’ve come up with as well as the speed with which we’ve made this action,” Gould said after the announcement. “Climate action is urgent, and we are treating it urgently. We are not talking about 2050 or even five years from now; we are divesting most of it this year.”
Gould said that the college will divest more than 99 percent of its endowment investments from fossil fuel funds by December 31, excluding only “very small percentages of mutual funds.”
As part of the its climate action plan, the college also pledged to make a 25 percent reduction in its carbon footprint by 2016 and to create a Pitzer Sustainability Fund to facilitate the investment of endowment funds in environmentally friendly companies.
“It’s really incredible that we were able to come up with such a comprehensive and bold list of actions to accompany divestment, including reinvestment, carbon emission reductions, and a holistic way to align our endowment with our values,” said Jess Grady-Benson, a co-founder of the Claremont Colleges Divestment Campaign, who spoke at the press conference.
The Divestment Campaign, a 5C organization that has been lobbying the Pitzer Board of Trustees to divest, was unsuccessful in an attempt to persuade Pomona College to divest last year despite a referendum passed by Pomona students in support of the movement.
Trombley and Gould were joined at the press conference by Robert Redford, an LA-born actor and environmental advocate who serves on Pitzer’s Board of Trustees and for whom Pitzer’s Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability is named.
“With student-activists as a galvanizing force, today’s announcement makes Pitzer the first college or university in Southern California to divest, and the first to come up with an innovative solution that other organizations can model,” Redford said in a prepared statement.
Pitzer’s decision to divest was reached after months of debate among members of the task force and the student body.
Ben Levine PZ ’14, who served as one of the student representatives on the task force, was initially apprehensive about the risks of adopting a divestment plan.
“I had serious concerns about the impact that divestment would have on Pitzer’s endowment,” Levine said. “However, in the end, I felt that these concerns were mitigated through a comprehensive restructuring of our investment policy that better reflects our mission statement.”
Shinara Suderlal PZ ’17 is an active member of the Divestment Campaign and attended the press conference with 15 other members of the organization.
“We could not be happier that the Board of Trustees recognized the need to divest, and we are looking forward to building on the goals they have set,” Suderlal said. “I think overall the team is just very proud of Pitzer for making such a bold decision.”
Not all students, however, believe that divestment will have a significant effect on the fossil fuel industry, or that it is a good move for Pitzer’s endowment. Braden Holstege PZ ’14 has been a vocal skeptic of the movement to divest Pitzer’s assets from fossil fuels.
“It is difficult to see any plausible way that divestment could impact oil companies,” Holstege wrote in an email to TSL. ” The real concern for me is that divesting from fossil fuel companies necessarily prohibits Pitzer from investing in index funds, which offer lower fees than active asset management.”
According to Grady-Benson, even though Pitzer’s announcement marks a huge achievement for the Divestment Campaign, the campaign’s efforts will not be ending here.
“We are really excited to continue to work towards divestment at the other four colleges, and particularly glad that students from Pomona are reinvigorated by the announcement and about readdressing the issue of divestment at Pomona,” she said.