By DONOVAN HARRELL
Provost Ann Cudd’s first year has been filled with many challenging moments.
Within a few months of her tenure, she had to address multiple unionization movements on campus, a mass shooting that shook Pittsburgh and other incidents of discrimination.
But through it all, she’s remained focused on making Pitt as diverse and inclusive as possible.
Multiple University leaders have praised Cudd for her openness and willingness to hear from the broad voices within the Pitt community.
Faculty Senate President Chris Bonneau gave Cudd “high marks” for her first year. One noteworthy initiative from her office is the Pitt Success Program, which was created to help make Pitt more affordable for students.
“Obviously, the Pitt Success Program was a huge asset, and a huge benefit, and certainly benefited from Ann’s leadership,” Bonneau said. “And that’s something that is very forward-thinking, and something I think that sets us up to be successful in recruiting students.”
Bonneau added that Cudd is very active in Pitt’s shared governance.
“We haven’t always agreed on everything,” Bonneau said. “But you expect that. I’ve found her to be somebody who is open to feedback and who listens, and … who, based on feedback, will change (her) mind, change (her) position.”
He’s also looking forward to the ad hoc promotion and tenure committee that her office is creating to try to standardize rules across departments.
Staff Council President Andy Stephany said that the first year at Pitt can take some adjusting, especially because of its shared governance model. However, Cudd has had no problem engaging with it, he said.
“She’s been more than open to listening to feedback, and at the very least, historical context on where Staff Council is coming from on some of our initiatives,” Stephany said. “I think that she’s really just been willing to put herself out there.”
The University Times sat down with Cudd to review her first year and some of her priorities for the next year of her tenure. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
You’ve had a busy year! How would you describe your experience so far? How is everything going?
I think it’s been a great year. I think back to where I was a year ago, and how much I’ve learned, it’s just been a really great year of meeting so many new people and listening and finding out how many talented, great people we have here at Pitt. It’s been fun doing that.
Of course, the year’s been challenging too in many ways. The Tree of Life (shootings) and Rosfeld acquittal were very difficult for our students and our community. And I think there’s a national atmosphere that’s difficult these days. The El Paso shooting was just so horrific, and all of the white nationalism that has come so much to the fore. So, I think that’s been a difficult background.
But we at Pitt are an educational institution and geared toward trying to make the future better. And it’s a noble mission that I’m proud of. … And I think that our students have been incredibly resilient and creative and interesting in light of those things.
I think one of the big successes for the Office of the Provost and the University in general is the Pitt Success Program, and seeing how that’s making a big difference in the demographics of the students who are coming both to Oakland and also to the regional campuses. We’ve hired new presidents at the regional campuses. That was a huge project, and I’m really excited for President (Catherine) Koverola up in Bradford, President (Robert) Gregerson in Greensburg. I think they’re going to be great and just lead from strength to strength on those campuses. Those are some of the highlights and low lights.
When we spoke last year, you talked about your goals with and the importance of diversity and inclusion. Do you feel you have met your goals so far?
Met? No. But we are definitely making progress. And we have a lot more room to continue to make progress. But that’s part of why I think the Pitt Success Program (is important) … if you just look at the difference that has made in terms of the number of additional Pell-eligible students, (she estimated about 100 or 18 to 20 percent more than in the previous year) and also minority students. A big jump, which you would expect. A need-based financial aid program will really help to bring in a more diverse class.
The class is outstanding by every single measure. It’s more diverse and is outstanding academically. So really excited about that. That’s just one aspect of diversity and inclusion.
Another important aspect is, of course, the faculty. That’s going to take longer, you can’t change the composition of the faculty as quickly as the students since the students will turn over, hopefully every four years. But the faculty also, I think, we’re making progress. And we’ve got some programs in place for diversity hiring, and also additional funding and help for deans to hire diverse candidates. … I’m excited about those things.
And then, of course, (there are) a number of initiatives designed for inclusion and mentoring on the faculty side, like IMPACT, the one that’s mentoring for faculty of color. I think that’s been really successful.
We have a couple of other leadership programs that sort of disproportionately help faculty of color. … The more you give insider information to everyone about how to succeed in the profession, that especially impacts those who’ve been marginalized in the past.
And we continue with a number of programs through student affairs that are designed to be inclusive. If you look at the diversity of the student government board, for instance, it’s clear that we’re doing some good things there, too.
But we can always do more. I always appreciate students when they bring to the fore issues that they see, which they find discriminatory or biased, so that we can address those, and likewise on the faculty and staff side. I think we haven’t achieved the goals but we’re on the right track. And I think we would never say that we’ve achieved the goals until there’s really equity across the board. And that would be a different world than the one we live in yet. But we’ll aim for it. Right? We’ll aim for it.
Regarding the letter this summer from student leaders about threatening texts that a student sent, you were talking about maybe updating the student code of conduct. Have you set that in motion?
Well, I’ll certainly let Student Affairs (and Dean of Students Kenyon Bonner) take the lead on that. But yes, I intend to be involved with that. And I’ve been thinking a lot about codes of conduct. I think we always want to approach this as we’re an educational institution, and we want to make sure that people are educated and come to see the value of a diverse, multicultural environment through an education process rather than through sanctions or telling people, ‘No, you can’t say this,’ or ‘you can’t do that.’ But rather … let’s see how we can build a culture of mutual respect to achieve the goals of a great education and innovative research and all of those things that a university stands for. Kenyon Bonner and I both would like to take that sort of constructive approach and work with the students in that way.
Going back to faculty, how’s your experience been with shared governance this past year?
It’s been great, it’s very strong here. I appreciate that. I think we’ve got some great leaders here. Senate Council President Chris Bonneau has been a joy to work with. I think he definitely brings issues to the fore, but always with a sense of humor that makes it very easy to discuss together in a productive way. I’ve found all of the faculty involved with that to have the right spirit — enter into discussions about issues with the right kind of spirit and forward-looking attitude.
What’s surprised you most about coming back to Pitt? What weren’t you expecting?
I have been incredibly impressed by the quality of the students here. … I think they’re highly motivated, they’re engaged, they’re interesting, they’re smart. And that that’s been a real pleasure.
The student body over the years has changed a lot. When I was here — way back in the day — it was mainly a regional and commuter school kind of place. And that’s a great mission, too, but it’s a different demographic of students and different connection to the intellectual enterprise. And now the students are very, very engaged with that. So, it must be a joy to teach in these classes. I, unfortunately, haven’t had that opportunity yet.
After the Tree of Life shooting, the Stronger than Hate messaging was on your website and in other programs. Will these programs continue?
I hope that there will be events. Even over the summer, the Center for Race and Social problems had (a program) on hate. That was really excellent. And I hope we’ll have something in the coming year that has some tied to the Year of Creativity. And I’m sure there are other things that will be coming up as we move forward.
When we discuss the code of conduct, that might be an appropriate thing, also all of those kinds of forums, to put on that website. I do want to continue to build that out, and one of the incredible leaders on this has been (Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences) Kathleen Blee, whose research and personal experience fit with that. She’s been a real rock; she’s been quoted all the time in the news and the press. It must be emotionally taxing when it’s about your own community and your own.
What’s the status of the search process to fill Art Levine’s position as senior vice chancellor for health sciences?
On (Aug. 14), we have one of our big, long, multi-hour meetings. This will be the first one where (the search firm) will be presenting candidates to us. Of course, this is a very highly confidential process. We don’t want anybody asking or answering any questions about candidates at this point, because that would only serve to scare people away. But I think we have an awesome position description. A great position. Really interesting opportunity here. I expect we’ll get just fabulous candidates.
And is there a timeline for wanting to get that position filled?
I think before the end of the calendar year. At this point, we are planning for semifinalist interviews sometime, like in October. So that’s been sort of the timeline all along, or at least since we really got going on this thing. Let’s hope that we can stick with that.
Over the summer, there have been more faculty union hearings. Where do you see things heading in the future, and is your messaging to faculty still the same?
Absolutely. We are still looking out for the best interests of the faculty, regardless of the outcome. Right now, it’s just in a lot of intricate, very complicated little details. And the devil’s in the details in the sense that I suppose I don’t know what number of cards (the union) had, but they need 30 percent of whatever number it is that the PLRB decides is the right set of people to count (in the bargaining unit). And we’ve just been trying to guess, ‘Is it this bunch? OK, if it’s not that bunch, which is it?’ And those are inevitably complicated decisions, that both sides have different opinions about. We will comply with whatever decisions the PLRB makes. But we also have opinions about given the description of the bargaining unit here’s what we see the membership of that group to be.
Now that we are headed into a new school year, what are some of your new goals and new initiatives?
I’m excited about the Year of Creativity. I think that’ll be amazing. I keep hearing little tidbits and snippets of things. I don’t want to steal their thunder at all. But I’m excited about it.
I’m looking forward to the ad-hoc committee on promotion and tenure. We’re looking at the formation of a university-wide promotion and tenure committee, as well as looking at the tenure clock length. I’m looking forward to that final report coming out. But also, there will be a number of discussions with the Senate Council, faculty governance, about tenure and promotion standards and expectations and things like that. I think that’s a really important thing to do and renew every so often. And I don’t think we’ve really renewed that very recently. It’ll be good opportunity to talk about the diversity hiring initiatives.
2020 is the end of the current Plan for Pitt so we will begin to think about how we’re going to renew the strategic plan. That will be really exciting. And we’ll get a lot of involvement from faculty, staff and students, of course.
Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-383-9905.
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