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October 13, 2016

Searching for a senior VC for research

Town halls gather input on characteristics sought in candidates 


A series of town hall meetings has left Pitt administrators with a clearer focus on the qualities and experience a new senior vice chancellor for research should have.

Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said several key characteristics of potential candidates have emerged:

• Experienced in research, to support engagement with the faculty.

• A gifted administrator who can work with the internal bureaucracy and with outside stakeholders.

• A collaborator who will bring people together, rather than building turf or separation.
“The very nature of this position is one of enabling and working across the University, it’s not about empire building,” the chancellor said.

He and search committee chair N. John Cooper, dean of the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, accompanied by Provost Patricia E. Beeson and School of Medicine Dean Arthur S. Levine, senior vice chancellor for the Health Sciences, answered questions about the proposed position and listened as members of the University community offered their input in four sessions held on the Pittsburgh campus.

Gallagher said administrators have studied how Pitt’s Association of American Universities peers structure similar positions, and have sought out an experienced search firm.

“We think we’ve been able to embed a lot of best practice in terms of the job characteristics and profile,” the chancellor said. However, “just as important is the fit to our University and circumstances,” he added, noting that in order to be successful, the person “can’t just fit the average profile, but they must fit our profile.”

Overall about 100 people attended the sessions Sept. 29 in Alumni Hall and Oct. 4 and 5 in Scaife Hall.
The new job is twofold: to oversee research within the University and to engage externally.

Because Pitt is a major research university, and research is led by faculty, Gallagher said, the title for the new position “is a little bit of a misnomer.” While departments and schools still will manage their research scope and direction, the new senior vice chancellor will oversee the research support activities of the University, he explained, including regulation and monitoring of research, research translation and commercialization, and research-related facilities and infrastructure. Currently, these activities are dispersed among a variety of offices and positions. The new position will bring such responsibilities together “to have a visible lead [and] full-time support. …”

Beeson added that the new position is designed “to bring together the Health Sciences and the Provost area schools in a more strategic way in terms of their research.”

“There clearly have been some discontinuities” among research development and oversight, Levine added, and they should be integrated with contract administration. Whether the new post should be a staff or faculty position still is being debated, he said.

“The other part of this job is also representational,” the chancellor said. “It is being a champion for Pitt research, it’s supporting large-scale collaborations, things that have high visibility, that might be new, where we may be looking at novel funding models or trying to position the University to be competitive, say in national competition, whether it’s with federal agencies or perhaps through newer mechanisms involving corporate or philanthropic partners. It could mean community-based research.

“We are looking for somebody as well who can represent the University at the highest levels and be a champion, if you will, and to support faculty-led efforts in terms of positioning us to be as successful as possible.”
Attendees offered a variety of suggestions for candidate qualifications:

• Eric Beckman of chemical engineering said the right candidate will be well connected in order to help Pitt land new opportunities.

“We see a lot of large initiatives coming from both federal agencies and groups of innovative companies. Sometimes I feel like we’re the last to know. And by the time something comes out in print, that means it’s too late: someone’s already decided who’s going to get the money … I’d like us to be more in on the ground floor during the planning of some of these things,” he said.

“I’m looking for this person to be extraordinarily connected with both D.C. folk and C-suites [top corporate executives] around the country, so that we get the unfair advantage, instead of others.”

• Psychology faculty member Robert McCall, co-director of the Office of Child Development, asked for a broad view in defining research.

“I came to encourage this office and the individual who holds this position to be as broadminded and comprehensive about their definition of research as possible,” he said, citing Pit’s stated strategic priorities in University-community engagement and in global initiatives.

Such projects often are funded by local foundations that, unlike federal agencies, often don’t pay indirect costs. “Therein lies a tension between trying to encourage University-community engagement projects and their funding, on the one hand to satisfy that priority, and on the other, the need for the University to recoup indirect costs,” he said.

“I just want it to be as comprehensive and as broadminded as possible and then to be reconciled with the other tenets of the University.”

Gallagher said he wants to ensure that perspective is included in the search, agreeing that the University needs “a maestro” to navigate the growing complexity of nonconventional funding mechanisms.

• Frank Wilson, University Senate president, said his main concern came from his experience as a sociology faculty member at Pitt-Greensburg. “There’s a lot of research that you refer to as nonfunded research,” he remarked, citing internally funded regional-campus researchers’ work with nonprofit groups for the benefit of local communities. “I think it’s important to find someone to fill this position that is not solely focused on the things that I know are driving this — the big-ticket items” in research. “There are a lot of units I’ve discovered … that are doing these small things but these impactful things. There is a need for some kind of support system as an advocate for what we do.”

“I share this view,” Gallagher replied. “The reputation and capacity of this faculty is tied to all forms of scholarship.”

• Douglas Landsittel of medicine, chair of the University Senate’s educational policies committee, asked for candidates who would make the office “function in a way that helps Pitt feel a little bit smaller in terms of the personal connections.

“I think that’s something that people here have done very well,” he said. “Different people with different management strategies make the organization feel big and intimidating, or small and friendly. I think someone with those skills is important.”

• Harry Hochheiser of biomedical informatics emphasized the importance of research computing and asked for someone who can improve support in that area.

• Judy Yang of chemical and petroleum engineering asked for someone interested in optimizing shared facilities to enhance research and education.

• Daniel Mosse, faculty in computer science, asked for someone who understands translation and innovation and can help create a forward-thinking policy around commercialization that will be good both for faculty and the University.

In response to a related question, Gallagher noted that UPMC is supportive of the plan “and view this as another key area where they can work with Pitt.”

Because Pitt faculty often are involved with both organizations, “it’s very important that we know how to work together and create a cohesive environment,” the chancellor said.

• Robin Kear, vice president of the University Senate, said her University Library System post prompts her to push for a candidate who will look for new chances for library collaborations with other local library systems to improve digital scholarship, bibliometrics and related areas.
Faculty and staff members in attendance also had a number of questions about the new position’s impact.

Across several of the forums, those in attendance expressed concern about the new reporting structure and its relationship to the vice provost for research position, currently held by Mark S. Redfern.

Gallagher said the new senior vice chancellor will “subsume the duties” of the vice provost’s position, but the chain of accountability will remain the same for faculty. They first will work through their school, then through the Provost’s office (for non-Health Sciences faculty), with the new position coordinating with the provost and senior vice chancellor for the Health Sciences. There would not be “a double set of bosses,” he added.

An estimated 166 people in various units will be reporting to the new post, said Cooper.

Harvey Borovetz of bioengineering said the current success of Pitt in attracting research dollars, particularly from the National Institutes of Health, must be safeguarded. He credited the “major relationship, more than any other university,” between Pitt’s academic medical center and the rest of the University.

“My concern is, you identify people from the outside [and] they will not have been exposed to this particular institution … with its unique way of being successful.”

Cooper assured that both internal and external candidates would be sought, and that the success of Pitt “does set a high bar for external candidates.”

The national search does not indicate that the search committee has a preference for an external candidate, Gallagher said.

“This will be a national search,” the chancellor said. “We hope there are outstanding internal candidates as well. Our goal is to find the best person we can in this position.”

Jim Becker of psychiatry had the opposite concern.

“You’re frequently hearing people make a distinction: This is a medical school problem or a University problem,” he said. “It sounds like this position is trying to get past that.” However, “the provost and Senior Vice Chancellor Levine are going to have their work cut out for them in trying to figure out how this triumvirate is going to work together.”

The new senior vice chancellor, Becker said, must be “the ringmaster in this kind of environment.”

“Personally, I don’t think it reflects a vast cultural divide,” said Cooper. “There’s lots of collaboration.” Most crucially, he added, the holder of this new post will need to understand the different financial structures between upper and lower campus management to make the job work.

Kacey Marra of plastic surgery, co-chair of Pitt’s Year of Diversity, asked how the search committee will ensure a diverse pool of candidates.

Cooper assured that the external consultants already have been charged with helping secure a varied candidate group. “Getting a strong and diverse pool really depends on members of the search committee reaching out to people that they know” for candidate suggestions, he said. He added that, as chair, he was cognizant of “the danger of implicit bias when you are reviewing profiles.”

Gallagher said the search committee members will receive training concerning implicit bias.
The chancellor said he hopes to finalize the search committee roster this week. Balancing the breadth of Pitt’s research activities in a committee of 15 will be difficult, Gallagher said, adding that he will aim to include perspectives from a range of research faculty, staff and other key stakeholders.

Cooper said the search committee would aim to present an unranked list of three candidates for the chancellor’s consideration by February.

Cooper said questions, comments or suggestions on the search should be sent to him at

Information on the search, including links to video of the Sept. 29 town hall sessions, is posted on the senior vice chancellor for research candidate search page at

—Kimberly K. Barlow and Marty Levine 

Filed under: Feature,Volume 49 Issue 4

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