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September 26, 2013

Search forums attract few, but produce lots of recommendations

John Wilds, assistant vice chancellor for community relations, speaks at the Sept. 18 chancellor search forum.

John Wilds, assistant vice chancellor for community relations, speaks at the Sept. 18 chancellor search forum.

It was a case of quality not quantity at a pair of forums hosted by the Board of Trustees chancellor search committee on the Pittsburgh campus last week.

About 20 people attended a session Sept. 18 in the William Pitt Union and about a dozen came out for a Sept. 20 session at the University Club to offer their thoughts on the traits and experience they’d like to see in Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg’s successor.

Only faculty, staff, students and alumni were permitted to comment at the sessions. Carlino Giampolo, an outspoken critic of the University, came to the Sept. 18 session but was told he would not be permitted to address the committee members.

Search committee chair Eva Tansky Blum said, “We’ve been talking to lots of different constituency groups and getting great feedback.” She asked participants to talk about the challenges and opportunities the University may face over the next decade and to describe the traits and background Pitt’s next chancellor should have.

Speaking at the Sept. 18 search committee forum were Lisa Borghesi of immunology, above, and Jean Stoner of governmental relations, below.

Speaking at the Sept. 18 search committee forum were Lisa Borghesi of immunology, above, and Jeanne Stoner of governmental relations, below.

Not surprisingly, many of those who spoke emphasized the positive attributes they see in Nordenberg that they hope will be maintained in University leadership.

Among them were: Ethics, humility, humanity, stamina, vision, the ability to build relationships, the ability to gather a strong leadership team, a passion for education, understanding of the community and a commitment to Pitt.

John Wilds, assistant vice chancellor for community relations, said, “I think the next chancellor has to understand that this is an extremely important position not in the city of Pittsburgh, but in the region.

“Mark’s done a very good job of making the University a regional force. It is part of the economic engine that drives this community. So, the new chancellor’s going to have to have a sense of place and a sense of belonging in this community,” Wilds said.

Jim Earle, assistant vice chancellor for business, noted the current leadership team’s commitment and love for the University. “I hope that we will seek and find a chancellor that’s committed to us, to the region, to being at the University and taking the University forward toward a new vision. I think that really was a factor in our success: true commitment to this University,” he said.

search stoner“Clone the current chancellor,” said Jeanne Stoner, assistant vice chancellor for federal relations, tempering her suggestion with the recognition that the University’s new leader indeed will be different.

“As much as we want the new person — whether it be he or she — to have the wonderful, successful and distinctive characteristics of the current chancellor, I think we have to be careful not to judge the new person as a second Mark Nordenberg. I think we need to make sure that we give the next chancellor the chance to be his or her own person as much as we think of and value the current chancellor’s characteristics.”


In contemplating the University’s future challenges, financial matters were on many of the speakers’ minds.

Earle said, “We’ve weathered a number of financial storms in recent years, but I think the challenges are not over and I foresee that lasting into the near future. …

“I think we need a chancellor who has not just the political savvy of our current chancellor but also some business acumen, some financial acumen that will help lead us through these significant challenges.”

The lack of state funding and its impact on tuition also was a concern. “I think we’re going to have to struggle to maintain affordability, which is important for us,” Earle said.

Staff member Jean Hale, director of alumni relations and development in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, noted the “growing public perception that college costs too much,” as well as calls for accountability from the White House, adding that it is important for University leaders to make the case for why Pitt is worthy of state support.

Cindy Tananis, a faculty member in the School of Education, said, “It’s going to be increasingly important in this decade that university administrators understand that a challenge is coming from the public, which is somewhat unprecedented in higher education, and be able to face that and respond appropriately.

Lisa Borghesi, a faculty member in the Department of Immunology, added that the new chancellor will need to understand the economics of medical school funding. “In the School of Medicine, our revenue is largely derived from grant funding from federal agencies, and that’s extremely difficult in this fiscal climate. The remainder of the lion’s share of our funding comes from the UPMC hospital system, which is undergoing a transformation with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

“I would appreciate in a chancellor somebody who understood the sources of funding for different schools and how to navigate that in a changing environment — not just from the state perspective but also federal legislation regarding Obamacare and federal funding,” she said.

Recognizing the opportunities for collaborative research and for nonfederal research funding from corporate sources and from consulting “has to be on the horizon for the new chancellor,” said Daniel Mosse, chair of the Department of Computer Science.


The ability to navigate and embrace change also was high on many of the speakers’ lists of attributes. Linda Hartman, reference librarian in the Health Sciences Library System (HSLS), said the new chancellor must be open-minded and flexible.

Mosse noted the importance of embracing changes in the way education is delivered. “Even though we’re a traditional brick-and-mortar university and the value is in the people here, however putting a foot online in the MOOCs like the University has done so far is very important because it shows that we’re not falling behind in terms of new technology, not falling behind in terms of new techniques,” he said.

Pathology faculty member Joe Newsome emphasized the importance of positioning the University for technological flexibility, “be it in our energy consumption as a university, on our research enterprises as a university, our educational enterprise as a university,” he said.

“Having a system or leader in place that has the right pieces in place to recognize technology — not just to jump on the bandwagon because something’s new — but to recognize that we need to bring this technology to bear in our University enterprise and move it forward in reasonable fashion and timely fashion with proper cost constraints” is important, he said.

Malgorzata Fort, head of digital resource development in HSLS, said the new chancellor must be comfortable with constant change. “Flexibility is the key term here,” she said.


Tananis, who serves in the University Senate, expressed her desire for a chancellor who is committed to shared governance. “There are very strong mechanisms in place here at Pitt. If anything, those need to be strengthened even further and encouraged,” she said.

Speakers also expressed their opinions on the next chancellor’s background. Many agreed that experience in a complex institution is key.

Citing Pitt’s relationship with UPMC as an example of the University’s complexity, Allie Quick of institutional advancement said, “My hope is that the new chancellor would come from an institution that has complex characteristics like the University has, and who has the sensitivity to be able to maneuver through the politics, the relationships and everything associated with that.”

Kannu Sahni of community and governmental relations noted the University’s many “moving parts,” all of which must be orchestrated to achieve success.

“This individual would have to come with the background of running very large organizations,” Sahni said.

He added that the next chancellor must be adept at “managing the whole structure while keeping focus on the mission of research, education and service.”

Search committee member David Bartholomae, chair of English, sought opinions on whether the new chancellor should have a background in academia. “Are we open to a candidate who’s run a major organization, not an academic institution?” he asked.

The responses indicated a qualified “yes,” with several noting that as long as members of the new chancellor’s leadership team have expertise in academia, they would be open to candidates with corporate or other nonacademic experience.

Said Mosse, “It has to be somebody who understands the academic and the research side. It can’t be somebody who is going to run it as a business. Even though it is a $2 billion business, it’s a business that has different characteristics — it’s not simply books and accounting.”

Hartman said: “I think it depends on the person and their background.”

Reiterating the importance of a strong leadership team, she noted that it could be an advantage for the new chancellor to have perspectives gained through corporate or other experience that someone from academia perhaps wouldn’t have.


The final search forum on the Pittsburgh campus is set for 6:30-8 p.m. Monday, Sept. 30 in the William Pitt Union ballroom.


Forums were set for all four of Pitt’s regional campus. (See related story this issue.)

A series of national forums began Sept. 20 in Durham, N.C. Others were held in Atlanta, Houston, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and New York. The final forum is set for Oct. 4 in San Francisco.

Members of the University community also can offer input via a survey posted at; candidate nominations can be submitted to

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Julie Seavy of the Office of Institutional Advancement spoke at the Sept. 18 chancellor search forum. Search committee members included, from left: James V. Maher, vice chair; Eva Tansky Blum, chair, and B. Jean Ferketish, secretary.

Julie Seavy of the Office of Institutional Advancement spoke at the Sept. 18 chancellor search forum. Search committee members included, from left: James V. Maher, vice chair; Eva Tansky Blum, chair, and B. Jean Ferketish, secretary.

Filed under: Feature,Volume 46 Issue 3

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