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July 8, 2010

Nordenberg, Beeson meet the press

pressconfIn his 15 years as chancellor, Mark A. Nordenberg has chosen most members of the University’s senior leadership team. However, James V. Maher’s plan to step down and return to the Department of Physics and Astronomy presented Nordenberg’s first opportunity to select a new provost.

In a press conference with newly elected provost Patricia E. Beeson following the June 25 Board of Trustees meeting, Nordenberg noted that he had been through the recruitment process for other senior leaders, including the appointment of Arthur S. Levine, who in 1998 succeeded Thomas Detre in the key position of senior vice chancellor for Health Sciences.

“It is the first time that I have selected a provost but basically over time I have gone through the process of selecting, after a recruitment effort, every other member of the senior team that reports to me,” Nordenberg said.

“Still, I recognized how central a provost’s role is to our progress. I took it very seriously,” said Nordenberg, who himself has walked in those shoes, serving as acting provost prior to Maher’s appointment in 1994.

“I had to confess to Dr. Beeson that I pushed very hard on the committee to generate the strongest possible external candidates so that there would be true competition for the position. And when you have strong candidates they give you things to think about. So it was a deliberative process but in the end Patty really seemed to be clearly the best choice for the position.

“One of the things to think about, too, is that we really have been successful. That office has been successful. Patty has been a part of that process,” Nordenberg said, adding that he believes Beeson brings both an appreciation for what already has been accomplished and the ability to build on those achievements through new ideas and perspectives.

“I am well aware of the fact that she already has made significant contributions to our progress and I do look forward to working with her as a very close partner as it keeps moving forward,” he said.

Following Maher’s announcement last November, a 21-member search committee led by Randy Juhl, vice chancellor for research conduct and compliance and former pharmacy dean, was formed to find Maher’s successor. Promising candidates gleaned from more than 160 applicants and nominees were brought in for interviews with the committee before a short list of six recommended candidates was presented to the chancellor.

Nordenberg said Beeson, who was among those nominated for the position, was the sole internal candidate among the six.

After interviews with Nordenberg, Maher, Levine, Executive Vice Chancellor Jerome Cochran and Vice Chancellor for Budget and Controller Arthur G. Ramicone, finalists met with members of the Council of Deans and representatives from Pitt’s professional schools, the Provost’s office, key offices that report to the provost, the Admissions office, the libraries, computing services, the Provost’s Advisory Committee on Women’s Concerns and Equipoise, Nordenberg said.

After he had received feedback and had met multiple times with the candidates, “I approached Dr. Beeson and asked whether she remained interested in serving in this position after having had so much exposure to me,” Nordenberg said jokingly.

Beeson said the offer came during a June 18 meeting in which she and the chancellor discussed their common aspirations for the University.

“I like working with the faculty, the students, the deans, trying to help them be successful in their aspirations for themselves, for their school and for the institution. I’d like to be viewed as a provost who has made that happen, someone who has been a supporter of the aspirations of the institution and of the individuals,” Beeson said.

There has been a refocused attention on undergraduate programs central to the University’s mission during Nordenberg’s 15 years as chancellor, she said. “Faculty, administrators and staff all have recognized the importance of that mission. I think that will continue to play that same strong role,” Beeson said.

“One of the reasons it’s become so important is that our faculty have come to really appreciate and enjoy working closely with our very talented undergraduate students,” she said, adding that undergrads are engaged with faculty both in laboratories and classrooms at Pitt.

“It’s really been a pleasure to work with undergraduates and I think it’s really a mark of the accomplishments of this institution that our faculty feel that way,” she said.

The choice of an internal candidate has its benefits. “There will be less of a learning curve with Patty because she has been here,” Nordenberg said. “Clearly there are advantages to being an internal candidate both in terms of understanding the institution and presumably after 27 years having some high level of commitment to it. But I did not go into this process looking for an internal candidate or expecting that one necessarily would emerge.”

Beeson stood out as a candidate for a number of reasons, Nordenberg said.

“She does have a really unique set of analytical abilities and has a way to deal with data and to translate that into something that is useful. She does have already a national reputation for strengths in assessment, accountability and planning that are key functions of that office. She is a person who has demonstrated a sense of fiscal discipline that really is important if we’re going to marshal our resources effectively and move ahead,” the chancellor said. “I knew that I would enjoy working with her and have a productive relationship.”

The reactions of others involved in the interviews played a role, he said. “One of the things that really made a difference was the extent to which she generated excitement among other people as she went through the interviewing process.

“Sometimes if you’ve held one position at an institution, it becomes hard for people to envision you in another position. In this case, almost with every interview people were reporting back to me, ‘We’ve really liked working with Patty Beeson as a vice provost. And what really is interesting is how we view her as a next very successful provost for the University of Pittsburgh,’” he said.

“She needs to lead deans; she needs to lead faculty members. So to get that kind of reaction from others meant a great deal too,” the chancellor said.

Beeson’s promotion, in conjunction with the impending departure of Vice Provost for Academic Planning and Resources Management Robert F. Pack, leaves two of five vice provost positions vacant. Pack plans to retire this summer, although he said he would continue in his position with a reduced workload this fall to aid in the transition.

Among Beeson’s tasks will be leading the search for Pack’s successor. “It is one of the key positions we’ll be looking to fill over the next few months, hopefully very quickly,” she said.

The two vacancies may result in realignment within the office. “We have an opportunity to think about how we want to put together the office. We’ll be looking into that,” Beeson said.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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