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February 20, 2014

Alumnus named 18th chancellor

Director of federal agency to succeed Nordenberg

Patrick D. Gallagher

Patrick D. Gallagher

The Board of Trustees elected Patrick D. Gallagher as Pitt’s 18th chancellor on Feb. 8 with a unanimous vote and a standing ovation.

Gallagher, acting deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce and director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), thanked the board in a packed William Pitt Union Assembly Room “for the tremendous vote of confidence and this tremendous honor, and more than anything else the privilege you’ve given me of the chance to serve this University.” Gallagher is a Pitt alumnus, earning his PhD in physics here in 1991, and was the 2013 commencement speaker.

He praised Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg, who announced his Aug. 1, 2014, resignation last fall, for playing “a decisive role” in Gallagher’s decision to take the post.

“As a lifelong public servant,” the incoming chancellor said, “I have always been motivated most by the desire to contribute … especially to make a difference in the service of a really great mission.” And there can be no greater mission than providing an education that opens doors to young people, he explained. “At the heart of this mission is the students … I will keep the undergraduate and graduate students at the forefront …,” he concluded.

Nordenberg, who assumed the chancellorship 19 years ago, said the choice of Gallagher “makes our future prospects even brighter and makes this a very special day for anyone who cares about Pitt or who depends on Pitt.”

Pitt Chancellor-elect Patrick D. Gallagher, standing, is introduced at the trustees’ Feb. 8 special meeting. Seated behind the trustees, in the front row of spectators, are Gallagher’s son Ryan and his wife, Karen. The couple’s other two sons were unable to attend the meeting.

Pitt Chancellor-elect Patrick D. Gallagher, standing, is introduced at the trustees’ Feb. 8 special meeting. Seated behind the trustees, in the front row of spectators, are Gallagher’s son Ryan and his wife, Karen. The couple’s other two sons were unable to attend the meeting.

The resolution electing Gallagher, read by board vice chair Eva Tansky Blum, noted the lengthy process by which he was chosen, including the establishment of a 25-member search committee under Blum last autumn. The committee hired a search firm, established a website, held forums on all Pitt campuses and nationally to seek advice from the Pitt community, and placed ads nationally to solicit candidates. After the board approved the chancellor position profile, “a number of candidates from around the world were identified,” the resolution said.

Four final candidates met with the board in January, according to Ken Service, Pitt’s vice chancellor for University communications.

Board chair Stephen R. Tritch said: “It became evident that there was a single candidate among them who was unanimously” deemed to be at the top of the list. “(Gallagher) has a national reputation … He has knowledge of Pitt and Pittsburgh” and knowledge through NIST of how to run a major research institution, Tritch added. “He also has strong academic connections.”

Later that day, the board’s compensation committee approved a salary for Gallagher of $525,000 “based on the benchmarking and compensation study commissioned by the board,” according to the resolution. As chancellor and CEO, he will receive “five annual $100,000 deferred retention incentive payments that will vest only if he does not voluntarily leave his University position, or is not dismissed from that position for cause, prior to July 31, 2019.”

Board of Trustees chair Stephen Tritch, left, with Chancellor-elect Patrick D. Gallagher at the press conference following Gallagher’s election as Pitt’s 18th chancellor.

Board of Trustees chair Stephen Tritch, left, with Chancellor-elect Patrick D. Gallagher at the press conference following Gallagher’s election as Pitt’s 18th chancellor.


Gallagher, who will turn 51 in March, has held his Commerce post since June 1, 2013, overseeing a $10 billion budget and 40,000 employees. Leading NIST since 2009, he oversees a 3,000-person agency whose mission is to promote industrial competitiveness and scientific innovation. Its headquarters are in Gaithersburg, Md., and Boulder, Colo.

Gallagher rose through the ranks of NIST, serving as deputy director, director of the NIST Center for Neutron Research and leader of the Research Facilities Operation Group in the Center for Neutron Research.

For his doctorate here, he worked under chancellor search committee vice chair and provost-emeritus James Maher as his thesis adviser. He also worked as a research assistant here and a research associate at Boston University before joining NIST in 1993.

Besides his status as an alumnus, Gallagher has other Pittsburgh connections. Though he was born and raised in Albuquerque, N. M., his mother moved to Pittsburgh in 1950 at age 12, to her grandparents’ house in Carrick, and she later married here.

Gallagher visited Pittsburgh as a child and briefly attended school in Carrick while a family member was undergoing medical treatment.

While at Pitt, he met Karen Abrahamson, whom he married in June 1991. She and their son Ryan, a high school junior, accompanied him at the Feb. 8 trustees meeting announcing his appointment. Their two college-age children were unable to attend.


gallagher podiumAt a press conference after the announcement of his election, Gallagher said that Pitt “feels the same to me” as when he last attended. His first task, he said, was “to maintain momentum” by meeting with the area’s largest players — representatives of the city, county and state, as well as Carnegie Mellon University, UPMC and others.

“One of my jobs is to leverage those relationships and put the University in a position to be great,” he said. “The secret sauce of NIST is, we had to partner … What I really bring, I hope, is a capacity to partner, to cooperate.

“I don’t have the direct experience” with fundraising, he admitted, but “what I think I have is some of the same skills … Fundraising isn’t about asking for money (so much) as it is about developing relationships.”

The appeal of joining Pitt, he added, included leading the institution during a time when the budget has shrunk and remains a difficult issue.

“In the midst of the greatest challenges … are often where the biggest opportunities lie,” he said.

Asked about Pitt’s continued tuition increases during troubled economic times, he pointed to the University’s “high value” ranking nationally. “As a tuition-paying parent, I certainly understand this issue … this is a national problem,” he added. He pledged “to give this full consideration as a major issue.

“It is a very important role to look at the cost side of the University,” he added, “and to be effective stewards of the resources that we have.”

Gallagher also said that he is “kind of bullish on the regional campuses” for their increasing role in graduating students who enter the science and technology fields that are the focus of entrepreneurial businesses nationally. “I think the attention there is only going to increase,” he said of the regionals’ role. “I think it is a unique asset and it provides some unique opportunities …” He had not yet visited the regional campuses but was looking forward to learning “how they fit in.…”

Tritch volunteered that the board had considered how Gallagher would handle regional campuses when he was selected, adding that NIST’s Boulder facility was akin to a regional campus the chancellor-elect already was managing.


University officials, not surprisingly, are bullish on Gallagher.

James Maher, for one, is unconcerned that the new chancellor does not have a background as an academic, as was requested by many search forum attendees.

“A lot of what he was doing at NIST… would fit just fine into our physics department here,” Maher said. “I know that the faculty on the search committee had a very good reaction to him, and I know when he was in our department he was very highly regarded by students and faculty members. I’m confident that he will be someone who the faculty of the University will like.”

University Senate President Michael B. Spring, a faculty member in information science and telecommunications, also was not troubled by Gallagher’s lack of experience in higher education: “I’m not particularly concerned about it and the reason is, he’s going to be chancellor and not provost or dean. The closer you get to the working faculty the more of a concern it would be.

“I believe what he will do (first) and what I believe makes sense is to come to grips with the territory, with the players.”

Spring met with Gallagher prior to the trustees meeting and had a very positive impression: “His commitment is helping Pitt move to the next step, which is even greater prominence … without a particular agenda for how you achieve that.…” Spring believes Gallagher “will follow Chancellor Nordenberg with a familiar style,” that he will be “as bright, as decisive, as committed to shared governance … and most importantly has the humanity that characterizes Chancellor Nordenberg.

“We’ll see the same commitment to working together,” Spring concluded. “We’re going to see a very similar environment a year from now.”

—Marty Levine