A peaceful path forward; responding to recent demands

Dear Members of the USF Community,

In line with our institutional commitment to transparency and partnership, I write to update you on recent events on USF’s campus and provide you with the administration’s response to requests from student representatives.

What I have shared with you previously is still relevant: campus protests — both here at home and across the country — are difficult for all of us to see, especially when situations and emotions escalate to the point that injuries, arrests, and disruption occur.

University leadership has prioritized communication and de-escalation. Our entire community has been reminded of community standards prohibiting harassment and discrimination, precautions in place to protect safety, and the university’s protocols for noise, rallies, signage, and more. For many months we have been in conversations with individuals, representatives of student government, and students involved in organizing and supporting the Welch Field encampment and other gatherings. Our conversations have been shaped by the expectation that protesters recognize the need to balance free expression and the right to express their views with safety and respectful dialogue. We are grateful to all who have prioritized safety for all community members and disappointed with those who haven’t.

With new social media posts, stepped-up demands, more vocal and visible signage, marches, and chanting on campus, we want to be certain that all members of our community have a comprehensive understanding of the framework and timeline of how we addressed concerns and how we have responded to students who are currently protesting.

Student demands and questions about USF’s public statements and investments

For several months, members of my leadership team, as well as faculty and staff across campus, have been reaching out and working with individuals who have voiced questions and concerns, and have been available for conversations.

It has always been our intention to have a transparent, productive discussion and respectful dialogue. Prior to the Welch Field encampment that was established on April 29, staff attempted to engage with students who were exercising their freedom of speech, asking who they could meet with and how communication was being shared. When the encampment was first formed, students informed administration that they were not ready to engage in conversations. Staff made several attempts to engage and made themselves available. Communication took place and a meeting was held at that time with the student point person for administration.

USF staff members have engaged daily with community members who have been associated with the encampment, ensuring their safety and well-being, answering questions, and addressing concerns. Further, USF administrators have repeatedly requested to speak with organizers and asked for negotiation opportunities.

The following summarizes the major events related to protester demands: 

  • November 2023  The university’s Finance and Treasury Office confirmed and communicated to students that four companies in question are not in the USF portfolio. The Finance and Treasury Office shared the university’s Socially Responsible Considerations of the USF Investment Policy and the Fossil Fuel Divestment Policy.
  • February 2024  ASUSF passed a resolution asking USF to review, disclose, and divest from Israeli companies, including a provided list of companies with Israeli ties, by fall of 2024. The Finance and Treasury Office reviewed the list, identified one firm (Booking Holdings) in which USF may have indirect holdings, and communicated that to ASUSF. Research is still being conducted and will be complete by ASUSF’s requested deadline of fall 2024.  
  • April 23, 2024  Students began posting and circulating a flier asking community members to email Finance Office staff, advocating for disclosure and divestment of assets associated with Israel. To date, about 95 messages have been received. The university replied to those messages today while noting the legally binding nondisclosure agreements associated with some investment funds. The Finance Office is currently looking at what more we may be able to share about our investments in other funds. We are at work on this now, and will have more information to share with the community before the fall 2024 deadline in ASUSF’s resolution. In addition, our ethical investment policies that are evident in our public holdings also guide our actions and decisions in the privately held investments; therefore, the policies for public and private holdings are the same.  
  • April 29, 2024  Encampment established on Welch Field. University departments including Public Safety, Facilities, Student Life, and others work with encampment organizers to provide a range of support services to ensure the health and safety of demonstrators. This has ranged from providing port-a-potties and handwashing stations to trash removal services and shelter during a storm.  
  • May 3, 2024  As an overall response to the ASUSF resolution was being developed, five demands were delivered by “The People’s University of Palestine” with a deadline of May 8:
    1. Condemn Israeli Occupation’s genocide of Palestinians
    2. USF must immediately disclose all Israeli occupation-affiliated endowments and investments
    3. Ensure divestments after disclosure
    4. USF end all academic partnerships with the Israeli occupation
    5. USF must protect pro-Palestine speech and students on campus
  • May 6–8, 2024  As outlined above, response and engagement with students has proceeded, with uneven success. It has been difficult to know who is representing the protesting group(s). On May 6 and 7, disturbances were reported and documented. On May 8, the president and several members of the leadership team visited the Welch Field encampment to address demands and listen to students.

Response to ASUSF and People’s University of Palestine requests

USF has agreed to take the following actions by the ASUSF deadline of fall 2024:

  • Look into Booking Holdings, a public stock that may be held indirectly in the USF endowment.
  • Post on the university’s website a fully accessible version of the university’s Annual Endowment Report. This report contains detailed information on USF’s endowment performance and asset allocation.

The following are responses to the demands of the People’s University of Palestine:

1. Condemn Israeli occupation’s genocide of Palestinians.

All members of USF’s community — faculty, librarians, staff, and students — are free to engage in advocacy on this particular issue, taking whatever position they wish. However, as an institution, USF will not take an advocacy position. USF must be a place where all are free to express their individual views.

USF condemns violence and the human suffering and devastation that is taking place in Gaza as a result of the Israel-Hamas war. I support the call Pope Francis made in November 2023:

In God’s name, I beg you to stop: cease using weapons. I hope that avenues will be pursued so that an escalation of the conflict might be absolutely avoided, so that the wounded can be rescued, and help might get to the population of Gaza where the humanitarian situation is extremely serious. May the hostages be freed immediately. There are also many children among them — may they return to their families. Yes, let’s think of the children, of all the children affected by this war, as well as in Ukraine and by other conflicts: this is how their future is being killed. Let us pray that there might be the strength to say, ‘enough.’"

We support the peacemakers in all communities, including our own. We are prioritizing the care and respect for all of our students. We as a university stand for the humanization of perceived enemies and the removal of violence from our hearts. 

2. USF must immediately disclose all Israeli occupation-affiliated endowments and investments.

USF administration stands by our socially responsible investment policies and we strictly adhere to our protocols of not investing in weapons manufacturers or fossil fuels. USF’s policies and our instructions to external managers are rooted in our Jesuit mission and values. The endowment management team will always take human rights violations into consideration while building and maintaining the university’s investment portfolio.  

We are sometimes limited in the information we can publicly disclose regarding investment funds due to the legally binding nondisclosure contracts that all investors and limited partners sign to engage in business with many investment managers and partnerships. This is standard industry practice.

That said, we agree and are committed to establishing a new socially responsible advisory investment task force composed of a representative group of students, faculty, and staff. This group will work with members of the USF Office of Business and Finance and USF Board of Trustees Investment Committee regarding investment practices. We understand the complex nature of this request and believe that our community understands that asset allocation is complicated. We look forward to working together with this new task force in balancing our fiduciary responsibilities, including preserving the existing endowment principal over time for the sake of intergenerational equity, generating positive investment returns, minimizing risk, with alignment of the endowment to the university’s mission and values as well as principles of socially responsible investing.

We are committed to continuing a respectful dialogue, including holding educational sessions on the university’s investment policies, and working through what was outlined in ASUSF’s resolution by fall 2024.

3. Ensure divestment after disclosure

See #2 above.  We are committed to what we have outlined moving forward.

4. USF to end all academic partnerships with the Israeli occupation

USF does not have academic partnerships with Israeli institutions.

USF is committed to academic freedom in research and teaching both at home and around the world. As an institution committed to promoting the common good through education that  addresses inequities, we will continue to support inclusive curriculum and multiple perspectives that strengthen critical dialogues. An example of this is “Beyond Bridges: Israel and Palestine,” an immersion program that exposes students to multiple perspectives, based on East Jerusalem in the Palestinian section of the city. USF will continue to support academic partnerships that collectively benefit our students and faculty and contribute to mutual understanding.  

5. USF must protect pro-Palestine speech and students on campus.

USF protects the right of all students, faculty, and staff to express their views peacefully and respectfully while adhering to campus safety and campus conduct regulations and protocols. We do not tolerate harassment, discrimination, or intimidation of any individuals or groups.

The Path Forward

The peaceful path forward begins now. We call for a ceasefire. We call for peace and respectful dialogue. 

Our goal is to move this dialogue forward so the entire campus community can have access to enjoy the beauty of Welch Field. We call on students, faculty, librarians, and staff to welcome this year’s graduates — along with their families and friends — to gather for commencement celebrations.

Academic freedom and freedom of expression are foundational elements of our educational mission. We believe fervently that diverse backgrounds and multiple perspectives are fundamental to advancing the pursuit of knowledge and understanding. The university is committed to supporting teaching and research that foster discussions across differences, creating opportunities for learning even in the most difficult moments, and preparing our students for the complex challenges they will face as leaders and people for others.

We look forward to continuing the conversations we have begun with protesters, concerned university citizens, students, faculty, and staff; to taking on the hard questions; learning from each other; and being peacemakers who are prepared to change the world.


Paul J. Fitzgerald, S.J.