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January 5, 2017

Chancellor discusses Pitt’s role in post-election uncertainty

In a post-election climate that’s high in conflict and uncertainty and often low in substance, “Double down on what makes us a great University,” Chancellor Patrick Gallagher urged in his year-end message to Senate Council.

“I think this is actually a key moment for this University. I think the choices we make about how we deal with this — whether our better angels or our worse angels take over — is going to say a lot about the community we are, but also ultimately about the impact we can have.”

He expanded on his Nov. 10 post-election message ( in which he stated, “This election feels different. It followed a long and intensely acrimonious campaign that exposed deep divisions in our country. While fierce debate and profound differences are part of all campaigns, this one was more negative, personal and polarizing than any in recent memory.”

In his Dec. 14 report to Council, Gallagher said, “One of the themes that I touched on in that communication touched on the fact that the issues that drove people to vote — issues people cared about — don’t go away at the end of the vote.

“The reality is, the things we’re facing as a society, as a world, as a nation, are big issues: We’re talking about social justice, race, gender, globalization, trade, the role of government, the economy, health care, climate change.

“These are monumental issues that will require serious engagement. In many ways the things that we espouse here at the University — in terms of dedicating ourselves to working on relevant issues, making an impact, seeking to understand, disseminating, engaging — are going to be vital to making any real progress on these kinds of issues.”

Post-election, “It still feels different,” he told Council.

“If you think about the last year, the last month and look at the headlines you would be reading, we have stories about fake news; we have stories about misinformation.We’re talking about is a tweet a news story?” he noted.

“The importance of these issues and the role that we play are very difficult to do in that environment,” Gallagher said.

“The way this is playing out in the society around us: playing on peoples’ fears, not worrying about the facts, sorting people into friend or foe; demeaning the foes. This is just not the way we’re supposed to tackle problems,” he said.

“I think we face a pretty stark choice: We either succumb to that and start doing the same things, or we try to fight against it and maintain this environment where people with real differences of viewpoint actually come together and engage in a substantive way to try to explore those differences, seek to create an understanding and don’t seek to demean, dehumanize or delegitimize the people who might have different views.” University Senate President Frank Wilson concurred.

Noting that the Senate’s special committee on diversity, inclusion and core values is continuing its work on developing a University statement of core values, he urged schools and departments to consider doing so as well.

“We need to be sure of what we share. It doesn’t have to be a long manifesto. But there are certain core things,” Wilson said.

“With an institution as large as ours, with as many people who are part of it, we’re never going to achieve absolute consensus,” he conceded. “But we should know what we are: A public university. And we should rededicate ourselves to what we think a public university should be doing.”

In other business:
• Council unanimously approved an updated research integrity policy presented by Senate research committee co-chairs Penny Morel and Pat Smolinksi. Faculty Assembly unanimously approved the new policy last month. (See Dec. 8 University Times.)

• Council’s next meeting is set for 3 p.m. Jan. 25 in 2700 Posvar Hall.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Filed under: Feature,Volume 49 Issue 9

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