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April 2, 2015

Planning our future

A dialogue on strategic planning with Chancellor Patrick Gallagher and a panel of senior University leaders drew 300 people to the Alumni Hall Connolly Ballroom while dozens more watched the March 19 University Senate plenary session live-streamed on the regional campuses.

Chancellor Patrick Gallagher addresses the Senate plenary session.

Chancellor Patrick Gallagher addresses the Senate plenary session.

In addition, David DeJong, vice provost for academic planning and resources management, outlined the new strategic planning framework in a pair of town hall sessions March 18 at Alumni Hall and March 20 in the University Club. Those two forums drew several hundred participants and likewise included participation by regional campus viewers.

Video recordings of the plenary session and town hall meetings can be viewed at

The University’s mission — to offer superior educational programs; advance the frontiers of knowledge and creative endeavor, and share expertise with private, community and public partners — isn’t changing, nor is Pitt’s existing planning structure, DeJong told a town hall audience.

And, the strategic priorities of delivering excellence in education, having an impact through pioneering research, building community strength, extending our global reach, providing top value and securing an adequate resource base remain.

“What we want to do is augment this structure with a framework that will better enable the actions that we’re taking in planning at the unit levels to advance strategic priorities and our mission,” DeJong said.

The chancellor reiterated that new leadership is a natural opportunity for taking stock of the University’s future. “I find that the momentum we have built at the University of Pittsburgh to be remarkable,” Gallagher said.

“The challenge isn’t really one of a broken organization where we’re looking to change direction,” he said. Now that Pitt is among the elite universities in the nation, he said, the measure becomes one of our own goals: What do we want to do with that status? What do we seek to become?

“What kind of University, what kind of community, what kind of culture do we seek to have?” the chancellor asked.

“This is a community discussion. It really takes all of us who have such an important stake in this University and its life,” he said. “We all share in the task of what we seek to become and sharing ideas.”


Concerns and comments raised by members of the University community covered a broad range of issues: silos and decentralization in computing infrastructure; the role of the regional campuses; faculty salaries; engaging non-tenure-stream faculty, and matters of diversity — with consideration for inclusivity in the areas of gender, sexuality and those who are differently abled.

Suggestions included: Reaching out to engage retirees in ways similar to outreach toward Pitt alumni; instituting a unified graduate school, and addressing the causes that underlie the silos that exist at Pitt.

Suggestions and comments also are being collected via a form at, with a June target date for the strategic plan’s development.


Senate President Michael Spring declared the March 19 “Planning Our Future” plenary session “testament to Pitt’s commitment to shared governance,” noting both a record crowd in attendance and participation by an unprecedented number of University leaders.

Spring, in his introductory remarks, said Gallagher “clearly values the Pitt traditions and has a strong commitment to shared governance. He brings new eyes and new energy to the table.”

At the plenary session, other senior administrators made brief presentations and took questions from the audience. (See related story.)


The chancellor speaks

“This is an exciting opportunity for us to set aside routine and get together and talk very directly about something I know is near and dear to everyone’s heart, and that is our University and where we’re going and what our priorities will be,” Gallagher told the spring plenary session audience.

The past several decades have been committed to generating the momentum that the University enjoys today, he said.

Now new questions need to be asked: What do we ourselves seek to do? What are we seeking to become? What kind of impact do we want to have? “My job is not to command and control,” Gallagher said. “The intention here is how do we set the conditions so that you can succeed?”

Two motivations underlie the planning process: One, he said, is alignment: Is there some consensus about why we’re doing this? “We have different schools. We have different departments. That’s our strength. That’s what gives us our breadth and our agility and our creativity. But … we can’t let that spread become just chaos.”

A second motivation is to find several catalytic endeavors that could “grow new muscles” for the University.

“The question really is: In all this world of opportunity and challenge that we face: … what are two or three things that if we all agree to focus on we could really move the needle and make a difference?”

The University’s new strategic planning effort remains “very much a work in progress,” he told plenary session attendees. “There is no secret plan in my hip pocket that you’re waiting to see. We really are committed to working together, as we should, as a University community to answer that question.”


Gallagher elaborated on the input he has received from the University community since his arrival as chancellor Aug. 1.

“In every case people were refreshingly candid about both the strengths and weaknesses,” Gallagher said. “You can’t imagine how useful that is, to really have that honesty and frankness. To me, it really reflected a sense of the values here, that we all are committed to the success of the University,” he said.

“Our people, our students, our infrastructure, our stakeholders have combined and are creating this incredible momentum that we see,” Gallagher said, citing as well an engaged, energized and willing alumni base; a city and regional community vested in Pitt’s success, and a business community that’s eager to collaborate.

There are challenges: Rising tuition costs, stagnant federal R&D funding and declining state support are problems that “are bigger than Pitt,” Gallagher said. Space is tight. Technology is changing how education is delivered and how research is conducted.

And, “We have a diversity problem at Pitt,” the chancellor said bluntly. “Our numbers are just not representative of the country and the communities we live in.”

Gallagher said there is room for improvement at Pitt in partnering with the private sector in research and in changing an overly cautious, risk-averse internal culture.

“Many of you talked about the sense of frustration and lost opportunities there,” he said.

David DeJong, vice provost for academic planning and resources management, listens to a question from the audience at the March 20 town hall session on the new strategic planning framework.

David DeJong, vice provost for academic planning and resources management, listens to a question from the audience at the March 20 town hall session on the new strategic planning framework.

Planning framework

Gallagher expanded on the structure of the strategic planning framework, which serves as a way not only to talk internally about our goals, but also to communicate them to the outside world.

Pitt’s mission statement — its “North Star” — and its strategic priorities haven’t changed, he said, adding that the internal planning processes already in place throughout the University serve well.

“What was missing was a piece of connective tissue,” he said. “When we talk about the strategic framework, we’re talking about that missing piece,” the chancellor explained.

“As we look at that North Star, what are the things we have to work on to navigate the terrain we think we’re going to be facing?”

Following “environmental scans” — meetings with internal and outside constituencies to hear input on the University’s challenges and opportunities — three drivers of change were identified to maximize success: “They really boil down to the following three things: Our culture; the tools we give ourselves, and our capacity to work with others,” the chancellor said.

“The consensus coming from all the comments we heard through the environmental scan was that if we could focus on some initiatives that really address those three things … then our chances of getting to our strategic goals are going to be enhanced.”

As examples, Gallagher elaborated on how two recently announced initiatives add to the strategic planning framework:

• The development of a set of pre-negotiated terms for commercialization agreements between Pitt and UPMC relates to the research agenda, to a resource base and to culture.

• Creation of the position of vice chancellor for economic partnerships likewise adds to strengths in partnerships and culture.

“What we really need are some exciting catalytic drivers that begin to map out other parts of this agenda,” the chancellor said.


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Gallagher said the subject of values arose spontaneously throughout all the preliminary group discussions. “That tells us that culture matters.”

Many of those values already are part of Pitt’s brand: “a focus on excellence, our core integrity and honesty, our sense of collaboration and openness,” the chancellor said.

Others need strengthening: “Values like diversity and inclusion, our value for agility, a spirit of innovation and speed, a kind of get-it-doneness, that goes to this question of risk aversion,” he said.


“The University is driven by the talents of its faculty and its staff and its students. That’s where all the action takes place. And the role of the administration and the leadership is to actually set the conditions for success,” Gallagher said.

“I may be the spokesperson, I may be the catalyst, I may be your representative in many contexts. But in fact if this doesn’t represent you and enable you, then we have failed to do the right thing.

“I really view my role as setting the conditions for success, building bridges, being an advocate, being a champion, being a representative. And being sort of the reminder so we all keep the focus — reminding ourselves why we’re all working and what we’re working toward,” he said.


In closing the plenary session, Senate President Spring said the discussion was one the University community has been hungry for. “What most impressed me today … is that the chancellor and the senior staff have been listening very intently to you,” Spring told the Senate audience.

“As I heard that message I was reassured that our leadership is responding to the many comments, questions and concerns we have.”

Spring said that when the search for a new chancellor began, “The thought did cross my mind that the next chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh was going to face a very difficult task. The University of Pittsburgh had moved fast and far over the previous 20 years. The question would be: How much further could we go and how could we get there?

“… I’m confident today that our leadership has heard, has a formulation, has a way of thinking, that will provide the support to us that we need to move the University forward,” Spring said.

“It is a process that has begun. And it’s ours to help shape. We are the leaders of the University. Pittsburgh is its people. And I am confident we’re moving forward.”

Following the two-hour plenary session, Spring told the University Times: “I think that the community is hungry to know what’s going on,” adding that the administrators “did a wonderful job of talking about details.”

Spring said, “This was a major address made by the chancellor and I think he assured the community that this is about them and how the University supports them. I’m pleased the Senate could play a role.”

Spring expressed confidence that the senior administrators were truly listening and taking note of the community’s input. “There’s not some secret plan,” he reiterated.

Staff Association Council President Rich Colwell agreed: “The upper administration is listening, for real,” he told the University Times, adding that he would like the University’s response to include better pay for staff, particularly those at the low end of the salary scale.

—Kimberly K. Barlow