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July 7, 2005

Chancellor details decade of progress

In his annual state-of-the-University report to Pitt trustees, Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg veered from his usual one-year progress summary to review highlights of Pitt’s accomplishments over the past decade.

“The period from 1995 to 2005, at least in American history, will long be remembered for the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. This decade also brought the bursting of the bubble, mid-year commonwealth budget cuts and the bankruptcy of the City of Pittsburgh. But the past decade also brought a very special opportunity to us.”

The June 24 Board of Trustees meeting marked the 10th anniversary of Nordenberg’s appointment as interim chancellor and the forging of “our partnership for Pitt,” when he and the trustees agreed to develop institutional priority areas, Nordenberg said.

“Just a few months later, building on a series of trustee retreats, we publicly adopted the priority statements that continue to guide our efforts today,” he said, that is, pursuing excellence in undergraduate education and student life; strengthening Pitt’s reputation in research; forging partnerships in the region; building financial solubility and efficiency, and increasing fundraising.

(See related story on Pitt’s capital campaign.)

“In the light of an institution nearly 220 years old, a decade provides a more meaningful, though still relatively compressed, period for assessing impact and progress,” Nordenberg said. Since 1995, “it might be said that we have been doing our part to write, in the company of faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends, the next chapter in the history of the University of Pittsburgh.”

*The educational mission

Pitt has been able to build on its long-standing position as the region’s principal provider of high-quality higher education, Nordenberg said, as evidenced by the awarding of more than 71,000 diplomas during the last decade.

“With respect to our educational mission, the external review commissioned by the board in the fall of 1995 set forth three related, and troubling, observations: that Pitt undergraduates were not a priority for the institution; that Pitt undergraduates did not feel connected to the institution, and that Pitt undergraduates did not arrive with academic credentials worthy of the institution,” Nordenberg said.

This led, in 1996, to the establishment of excellence in undergraduate education as Pitt’s first priority, he said.

“By the spring of 2002, we already had received an unusually positive assessment of our progress from the team of professionals that conducted the regularly scheduled accreditation visit for the Middle States Commission on Higher Education,” which praised Pitt’s efforts to improve the quality of the undergraduate student body and to enhance the quality of student life, the chancellor said.

“Our efforts to enhance the overall undergraduate experience took many forms: We expanded and improved on-campus living capacity by building and refurbishing residence halls; enriched residence life programming; renovated classrooms; beautified our campuses; integrated academic and career planning; developed new recreational facilities; connected students to the cultural community through the Pitt Arts Program; made public transportation more readily available by negotiating a no-fare contract with the Port Authority; upgraded information technology and support systems and trained faculty to teach the largest number of undergraduates with the most up-to-date educational technologies,” Nordenberg said.

Over the last decade, the chancellor said:

• Undergraduate applications have more than doubled;

• Full-time equivalent enrollments have increased by more than 12 percent;

• Average SAT scores have climbed from 1110 to 1231;

• The percentage of freshmen who graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school classes has risen from 19 percent to 46 percent, and

• The percentage of freshmen who graduated in the top 20 percent of their high school classes increased from 39 percent to 75 percent.

In addition, Nordenberg said, Pitt undergraduates in the last decade have won 24 Goldwater scholarships, three Truman scholarships, four Udall scholarships and five British Marshall scholarships; three Pitt undergraduates won Andrew Mellon fellowships in humanistic studies; one undergraduate won a Fulbright research fellowship, and nine others won Fulbright teaching assistantships.

Pitt’s former students continue to earn national and international recognition, Nordenberg continued. In the last two years, that recognition included:

• The Nobel Peace Prize and the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine;

• The Shaw Prize in Life Sciences and Medicine;

• The Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research, this country’s largest award in that discipline, and

• The Fritz Medal, widely regarded as the highest honor in engineering.

Recognitions earned earlier in the decade by Pitt alumni included the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, the $1.2 million Templeton Prize, awarded for research or discoveries about spiritual realities, and a MacArthur Foundation “genius award,” Nordenberg said.

*The research mission

“It is the scope and strength of our research programs that set us apart from most other universities,” Nordenberg told the trustees. “One of the past decade’s most telling signs of progress then was our continued rise within the ranks of America’s finest research universities,” jumping in the last five years from a national ranking of 20th to the top 10 among U.S. universities in terms of the total federal science and engineering research and development support attracted by faculty, he said.

Other indicators of success include:

• The University’s total external research funding increased from $230 million in fiscal year 1995 to $559 million in FY 2004, and is expected to exceed $600 million in FY 2005.

• Total Pitt research expenditures for the past 10 years — “almost all of this new money that we have imported into the region,” Nordenberg said — are expected to top $3.85 billion.

• Pitt is directly and indirectly supporting more than 17,000 local jobs through its research initiatives.

Nordenberg said that in the last decade Pitt faculty have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the World Academy of Art and Science, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine.

*Forging regional partnerships

Nordenberg cited advances in cancer research and treatment to illustrate how the partnership between Pitt and UPMC is advancing the cause of human health in the region.

Highlights of that partnership include:

• The University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) has grown to include some 500 faculty members and staff, covering 30 different disciplines;

• UPCI researchers attracted close to $150 million in grant support last year;

• “The UPMC Cancer Centers are now the busiest cancer treatment centers in the country,” Nordenberg said.

• UPCI and the UPMC Cancer Centers received a $20 million gift from Henry Hillman, his family and his foundations to create The Hillman Fellows Program for Innovative Cancer Research.

During the past decade, Pitt’s partnership with Carnegie Mellon “rescued the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center from a near-death experience when federal funding priorities changed,” Nordenberg said.

Other joint Pitt-Carnegie Mellon initiatives include: the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition and, with other regional partners, the Pittsburgh Digital Greenhouse, the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse and the Pittsburgh Robotics Foundry.

*Building financial strength

Since 1995, Pitt’s total institutional assets have grown from $1.5 billion to $3.5 billion (a 133 percent increase); net assets have grown from just under $1 billion to $2.4 billion (up by 140 percent), and the University’s endowment has grown from $463 million to more than $1.5 billion (a 225 percent increase), Nordenberg reported to the trustees.

Total employment at Pitt now tops 12,000 employees, up by nearly 25 percent, reflecting dramatic increases in research support, the chancellor said.

Since 1995, Pitt’s bond rating has been raised twice by each of the major rating agencies and now stands at “investment grade” for both Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s.

“There probably is no more visible sign of Pitt’s renewed fiscal strength than the ambitious program of construction and renovation we have successfully pursued,” Nordenberg said. “We have added nearly 2 million square feet of additional space, and the total cost of projects already completed and now underway exceeds $1 billion.”

—Peter Hart

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