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June 26, 2003

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Ralph J. Cappy elected to chair Pitt’s Board of Trustees

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ralph J. Cappy, elected June 19 to chair Pitt’s Board of Trustees, said he thought long and hard before allowing himself to be nominated for the position.

“I had to be sure that I would have the time to do the job properly,” Cappy told his fellow trustees after they unanimously elected him to a one-year term as chair.

“As you all know, I do have another job,” he deadpanned.

After talking with “a lot of people, many of them friends and supporters of this institution,” Cappy said, he concluded that he could chair Pitt’s board and serve as Pennsylvania’s chief justice “without conflict and without shortchanging either institution.”

Cappy said he’s excited about Pitt and confident in Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg and his leadership team. “Without exaggerating the point, I believe that Mark Nordenberg is a leader of national stature who has demonstrated his ability and deserves our full support,” said Cappy, who earned both his B.S. degree (in 1965) and J.D. (in 1968) from Pitt.

During the board meeting and at a news conference afterward, Cappy said trustees of non-profit institutions should hire and retain good managers, work with them to set strategic goals, monitor progress toward meeting those goals — but otherwise stay out of the way.

“You let the managers manage,” Cappy told reporters. “My philosophy, and I think we have virtual unanimity on the board about this, is that we are not micromanagers of this institution. We provide oversight as well as a repository of knowledge to help management achieve the goals that everybody has set. And, obviously, we watch over the money.”

Cappy’s style as chairperson was reflected in his answer to a question about whether Pitt should bolt the Big East athletic conference. “I am interested in Pitt’s well-being,” he replied. “I will leave to management the question of how that is best served, whether it’s in the Big East or some other conference.”

Cappy succeeds William S. Dietrich II, who served two consecutive one-year terms as chairperson and will continue on the board. Cappy said current conditions at Pitt dictate that his tenure as chairperson will more closely resemble that of Dietrich than of Dietrich’s predecessor, J. Wray Connolly, whose five years as chair saw the forced resignations and replacements of Chancellor J. Dennis O’Connor and several members of his administration.

“I have the luxury of assuming this responsibility when we have a truly gifted management team, as Bill Dietrich did, so I proceed from a different standpoint than, for example, J. Connolly, who arrived on the scene at a time when the University was in transition,” Cappy said.

Cappy’s goal is “to help to further the institution — most importantly, academically, but in all regards,” he said.

Noting that changes in University leadership sometimes accompany changes in board leadership, a reporter asked Nordenberg (now in his eighth year in office) how long he hopes to remain chancellor.

Cappy, who had deferred to Nordenberg during the news conference until then, interrupted the chancellor to answer that question first.

“As far as the board is concerned,” he said, “we hope that Chancellor Nordenberg and his team stay with us forever.”

Nordenberg replied: “I continue to find this to be an exciting and rewarding position. That doesn’t mean that every day is easy, but I really do love the University of Pittsburgh, consider myself lucky to have the chance to contribute to its growth from this position, and don’t have any immediate plans to leave it.”

Cappy has been a Pitt trustee since 1992. He serves on the board’s academic affairs/libraries, compensation, conflict of interest, and property and facilities committees. Cappy also chairs the School of Law Board of Visitors, and is a University director and member of the executive committee of the UPMC Board of Directors. He is a University of Pittsburgh Legacy Laureate and a recipient of the law school’s distinguished alumnus award.

As a member of the trustees’ compensation committee, Cappy backed up his words of praise for Nordenberg by voting to raise the chancellor’s salary by 13.9 percent this year (nearly matching Pitt’s 14 percent tuition hike) and approving annual retention-incentive bonuses of $75,000 a year to Nordenberg through June 30, 2007, if he does not leave his job or get fired before then. The compensation committee also approved raises ranging from 5.4 percent to 10.8 percent for five other Pitt senior officers, as recommended by Nordenberg, plus retention-incentive bonuses of $50,000 a year for those officers.

Cappy defended the controversial increases in a Post-Gazette op-ed piece last winter.

Sworn in as Pennsylvania’s chief justice in January 2003, Cappy has served on the court since 1990 and is now in his second 10-year term. Among numerous other awards and citations, Cappy has received the Citation of Merit by Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, Man of the Year awards from both the Pennsylvania State Police and the Fraternal Order of Police, and the Pennsylvania Bar Association Judicial Award.

— Bruce Steele

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