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September 26, 2013

Administrators outline efforts to improve community relationships

South Oakland resident Joan Dickerson (center) gets acquainted with one of the Pitt students at the Oakcliffe-South Oakland Be a Good Neighbor block party.

South Oakland resident Joan Dickerson (center) gets acquainted with one of the Pitt students at the Oakcliffe-South Oakland Be a Good Neighbor block party.

Town-gown issues dominated the conversation at the University Senate community relations committee’s Sept. 17 meeting.

John Wilds, assistant vice chancellor for community relations, reported that approximately 200 students and residents attended a “Be a Good Neighbor” block party in South Oakland earlier this month.

The event, designed to bring long-term residents and students together, is one of three block parties held this month in areas of Oakland where underage drinking and excessive partying have been problematic.

Wilds reported that a newly developed student guide to campus life ( was distributed to students and parents at orientation events. The guide includes information on housing, transportation, safety and the Oakland community, and reminds students of their obligation under the Pitt Promise to control their behavior and be respectful of their neighbors.

Paul Supowitz, vice chancellor for community and governmental relations, discussed a recent letter to Pitt trustees by Carlino Giampolo.

Giampolo, whose parents reside on Boundary Street in Oakland, has been an outspoken critic of the University on a number of issues including funding for litter cleanup in Oakland, University expansion and student binge drinking. He also has protested Pitt’s annual homecoming fireworks display, seeking to have it moved outside of Oakland, and has called for the chancellor to resign.

“He’s gone from those things to an all-out kind of assault or vendetta against the University. He took it to the next level recently with a letter to all the members of our Board of Trustees,” Supowitz said, calling some of Giampolo’s statements recklessly inaccurate.

The wide-ranging letter  (posted at, dated Aug. 22, calls for the University to end expansion, increase funding to the community, resolve trash and binge drinking problems, increase transparency and eliminate a “culture of fear,” move its fireworks display and make “human dignity” its highest priority.

Supowitz said, “We made sure we gave our Board of Trustees the information that was accurate on the issues that Mr. Giampolo was raising,” adding that many of the topics Giampolo raised in his letter were covered in a Sept. 9 Pitt Chronicle story that highlighted the University’s community engagement.

“None of the other neighborhood groups, none of the other people active in the community, none of the other institutions, have embraced anything that Mr. Giampolo says because of the recklessness with which he throws allegations around, and I think because of the way he approaches things. We certainly are open to working with anybody who has the interest of Oakland at heart, but Mr. Giampolo’s track record has demonstrated that he is not somebody who is willing and able to work in a collaborative way.”

Committee member Tracy Soska, a faculty member in the School of Social Work, said Giampolo had brought his concerns about trash in Oakland before CRC several years ago. (See March 20, 2008, University Times.) “We had a discussion,” Soska said, adding that it ended in frustration for the committee. “There’s been discussion in Oakland about creating a neighborhood business improvement district like the (Oakland) BID, where the University, the landlords, the property owners here, would all pitch in and do a cleanup, but that’s not what he was looking for. He was looking for just Pitt and UPMC to do that.”

Wilds added that landlords — “the other stakeholder” involved in trash and litter problems in Oakland — have more responsibility than the University does to clean up after their tenants.

“They’re renting to our students, but they’re renting to students we have no control over as far as their outside living arrangements are concerned. The landlords must bear some responsibility for cleaning up Oakland. We try to do what we can do in terms of having our students volunteer and in supporting the (Oakland Planning and Development Corp.’s Keep It Clean Oakland) program,” Wilds said.

Supowitz acknowledged, “I’m sure there are at times some student/long-term resident conflicts that happen throughout the areas where students live. But those are issues we’ve been really focused on,” he said, adding that OPDC and Carnegie Mellon University recently received a state grant for education and prevention of underage and binge drinking. “That’s something we’ve been working on for a long, long time,” he said, citing efforts by Vice Provost and Dean of Students Kathy Humphrey and the Division of Student Affairs in communicating expectations for student behavior and providing activities for students that don’t involve alcohol, as well as Pitt’s collaboration with police and community groups to address problem areas.

“I think there really is a more concerted effort on those town-gown issues now than there ever has been.”

In other business:

• G. Reynolds Clark, Pitt’s chief of staff and vice chancellor for external relations, who has been named vice chair of the chancellor transition committee (see July 11 University Times), commented on the chancellor search.

“We’re going through a very historic event on the part of the University,” he said, noting that Nordenberg is only the 17th chancellor in the University’s 226-year history.

“This time next year we’re going to have a new chancellor,” he said. “Reflect on it as (the transition) moves forward because it’s been a long time since it has happened and I hope it’s going to be a long time before it happens again.”

Clark urged members of the University community to attend the search committee’s scheduled forums to express their opinions on the attributes they would like to see in a new chancellor. “The search committee is very interested in input from the campus community,” he said.

“I’m intrigued by who will emerge as candidates for this position. I think we are going to be extremely surprised in a very positive way by the caliber of people who feel that they can be the chancellor of this great university.”

• Mona Kazour, co-executive director of Pitt’s student civic engagement committee, reported on Pitt Make a Difference Day, which is set for Oct. 26. She said 2,000 students had registered so far. Organizers plan to cap registration at 4,500 and hope to have 100 project sites at which students can volunteer. Kazour encouraged graduate students to register and said faculty and administrators are needed as bus leaders.

• CRC co-chair Laurie Cohen outlined the upcoming year’s meetings, with the proposed agenda loosely based on prior years.

Tentatively scheduled are: an update from student organizations at the Nov. 19 meeting; a report from the University administration at the Jan. 21 meeting; a conference call with one of Pitt’s regional campuses at the Feb. 18 meeting; reports from community partners at the March 19 meeting; a field trip (with the location to be determined) for the April 16 meeting, and planning discussions at the May 21 meeting. Meetings take place noon-2 p.m. in 272 Hillman Library. Cohen asked that members RSVP to her ( or co-chair Lovie Jackson Foster ( for the monthly meetings.

No meetings are scheduled for December and June.

CRC’s next meeting is set for noon-2 p.m. Oct. 15 in 156 Cathedral of Learning, a departure from its typical meeting place in Hillman Library. Day of Caring activities will be reviewed.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Filed under: Feature,Volume 46 Issue 3

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