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July 3, 1996

Chancellor Mark Nordenberg

Ending a nearly year-long search, Mark Nordenberg was appointed Pitt's 17th permanent chancellor during the Board of Trustees' annual meeting on June 20.

Nordenberg, 47, has been a faculty member in Pitt's School of Law since 1977 and had been serving as interim chancellor since Aug. 1, 1995, when J. Dennis O'Connor stepped down from the post under fire from the Board of Trustees.

During Nordenberg's nearly 20-year career at Pitt, he also has served as interim provost and senior vice chancellor for Academic Affairs, 1993-1994, and dean of the law school, 1987-1993.

In 1994, he was named a distinguished professor of law. His skills as a teacher also were recognized when he was presented with the law school's initial excellence-in-teaching award in 1984 and the following year won the Chancellor's Distinguished Teaching Award.

Nordenberg and his wife, Nikki, a counseling psychologist, have three children, Erin, 22, a recent graduate of Kenyon College; Carl, 16, a student at Central Catholic High School, and Michael, 12, a student at Falk School.

In answer to the question most frequently asked of Nordenberg since he was named chancellor: Yes, Nordenberg and his family will move from their home in Regent Square into the chancellor's residence on Devonshire Street this summer.

As for a formal ceremony marking his appointment, he said: "There are currently no plans for an installation ceremony. It probably would be institutionally appropriate to mark the occasion in some appropriate, but low-key way. I am not sure what would be the best way to do that." Nordenberg met with University Times writer Mike Sajna in the chancellor's office earlier this week to discuss the state of the University and his plans for it.


You have been at Pitt almost 20 years, long enough to have seen the University change in many ways. Where do you see Pitt in the next 10 years? 20 years?


My overarching goal over the next 10 years is to firmly cement Pitt's position as one of the truly strong public universities in this country. And I think real progress has been made toward that goal over the course of the past 20-25 years.

What specifically do you plan to do to cement Pitt's position?

There is obviously nothing more important than making sound academic decisions. This is a university and our quality will depend on our teaching, research and service initiatives. In that sense, I am totally committed to a continuation of the academic planning process that has now been in place for the last three years and that has been moved forward so successfully by Provost [James] Maher. At the same time, we will be pursuing our academic goals in an economic environment that is decidedly less hospitable than might have been the case 20 or so years ago, which also means that we have got to take the necessary steps to ensure we are well managed, that we are effectively pursuing initiatives to become more cost-effective and that we are aggressively pursuing the kind of funding that we'll need to realize our ambitions.

In your address to the trustees, you listed five courses of action to be followed in order to maximize Pitt's impact on higher education and the region. The top two called for assembling a senior administrative team that is creative and committed to the University and its academic mission. Board chair J. Wray Connolly suggested that individuals who report to the chancellor submit their resignations so that you could start with a clean slate. Have any senior administrators done so?

In response to the chairman's suggestion, there have been both written exchanges and oral discussions involving a number of members of the senior administrative team. Those are the kinds of discussions that, I think, would have occurred in any event. I think that they have all been productive.

Have you accepted any resignations?

If I had accepted any resignations I would be prepared to make a public statement. But the answer to the question is no. I would add, that those who are familiar with my style would not expect some kind of wholesale housecleaning, but instead a deliberate assessment of people currently occupying important positions, many of whom are talented and totally devoted to the University.

There already are vacancies for senior vice chancellor for Business and Finance and vice chancellor for Institutional Advancement. Since both you and Provost James Maher have come up through the ranks, so to speak, will you be looking for people from the outside to create a sort of balance?

I think we'll be looking for the best people who we can find for each of the positions. Sometimes, I assume, the best person will be from the inside and on other occasions we will be bringing in new talent.

Seizing opportunities to increase the University's cost-effectiveness was the third item on your list. Does that mean, as the University Planning and Budgeting Committee suggested in its report on the budget, more layoffs?

Pursuing cost-effectiveness and efficiency can take a number of forms. At its February meeting, the Board [of Trustees] directed the administration to engage a consultant to examine a wide range of possibilities. That work will be undertaken in the next few months. Even while the work is in progress, we do intend to take steps that are designed both to make us more effective in the delivery of services and also to maximize the available resources.

That already has happened in some areas. There have been reductions in employment through those initiatives. While I can't quantify what lies ahead, it would surprise me a great deal if there isn't some continuing shrinkage in the University's work force.

Another item suggested in the UPBC report was an early retirement plan for faculty. What is the status of that? There was a report [on an early retirement plan for faculty] developed by a committee chaired by Professor Jack Ochs. Their report is now under review in the Provost's office and it is my hope that we can put a new [faculty] early retirement plan in place by the end of the calendar year.

Do you expect to implement a similar plan for staff?

We're looking at the faculty as a first step and that may well give us some ideas for staff.

Concerning layoffs, Staff Association Council presented you with the draft of a layoff policy that establishes layoff procedures and gives preference to the re-hiring of laid-off staff members. Where does that stand? Do you favor such a policy? Actually, Staff Association Council provided me with an information copy of a proposal that they then began discussing with appropriate representatives of Human Resources.

Certainly there are aspects of the policy proposal, including trying to provide for some system of relocation of those already a part of the University family, that I do favor.

Generating resources through government, fundraising and other, alternative funding sources was another priority item. How do you plan to go about that? We have a long-standing concern with the level of support that we receive from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. I expect that the implementation of solutions also will be long-term. We have emerged from a difficult budget year with some unexpected progress. I want to build upon that, believing that we need to be advancing our cause with the commonwealth on a 12-month basis and not simply when there are formal opportunities presented to us as a part of the appropriations process.

In terms of private fundraising, we have retained an outside firm to do a campaign readiness audit, which will equip us to better assess the levels of giving that we might generate as a part of a comprehensive capital campaign. We also will be moving forward in the near future to initiate an appropriate search process for a permanent appointee for the position of vice chancellor for Institutional Advancement.

When do you think that might be? I would expect the process would be initiated this summer. At the June 20 trustees meeting, it was mentioned that the board would hear about a fundraising campaign at its October meeting. Do you expect to have a campaign plan by then? I think there will be a report to give at the October meeting. Whether there is a more concrete plan to be presented at that time is more questionable. Fundraising campaigns most often go through a silent stage, where leadership gifts are being solicited before a public announcement is being made. At this point, though, I really don't know what the specific timing sequence will be. But I do think that we should be moving forward with such a campaign at some point during the next academic year. And I do expect it to be a sizable campaign. There was some consideration given to launching a mini-campaign during the current academic year. That, on reflection, did not seem to be in the best interests of the institution. We really thought it would be better to move through the search process, to stabilize leadership, and then to pursue more ambitious goals.

You mentioned alternative funding streams in your address. What did you mean by that — more research money? We will face challenges in sustaining the level of traditional research funding that the University has attracted over time. I was referring more specifically to the technology transfer possibilities that have been discussed during the course of the past year. We now have a technology transfer specialist in place and working hard to enhance that program. We have also in the very recent past approved new policies that are designed to inspire higher levels of entrepreneurial activity by members of the faculty. We've also moved forward with initiatives like the Pittsburgh Tissue Engineering initiative, which I hope will emerge as a model, both for work of high quality that benefits the region and also as sources of additional revenue for the University.

The fifth item on your list is the creation of an effective partnership with government, citizen groups and other institutions in the region. You noted that substantial progress on each of those fronts has been made over the past year. Could you give some specifics? I have seen over the course of the last year real interest on the part of the city, the part of the county and on the part of the state in partnering with Pitt in ways that are mutually beneficial.

One of the exhilarating aspects of the last week was the outpouring of support that has come from the community. I have received more than 500 letters from people offering congratulations and pledging their support. Important among those correspondents have been governmental leaders who want to partner.

It has been said that Pitt is really two campuses, the upper and lower. What benefits, beside public relations from the work being done there, does the lower campus receive from the medical center? It's absolutely clear that some of this University's most important contributions, academically and socially, have come through basic research and clinical advances in the Health Sciences. We have been blessed with absolutely outstanding faculty members in the School of Medicine and in the other schools of the Health Sciences. We also have educated and trained thousands of people who are now making important contributions to their own practices.

In terms of basic missions of the institution, obviously there are a broad range of successes that come from the "upper campus." Beyond that, one of the things that has impressed me is the relatively high level of research collaboration between faculty members in the Health Sciences and faculty members on the lower campus, whether you are talking about arts and sciences or engineering or even law. So I think there are those benefits, as well.

At the same time, I recognize that there are perceptions of a cultural difference between the two campuses and I would hope there are ways we can bridge that divide in the years to come.

Do you have any specifics on how you might bridge some of the division between the upper and lower campuses? I think an important first step is to increase the degree of academic collaboration between faculty members in the two different parts of the institution. There may also be steps that we can take organizationally or administratively, but I am not in a position to talk about that.

Some people think that the University's core mission of teaching may have lost some of its vigor. Do you have any plans on how to restore that? Will there be more support for facilities directly associated with teaching, such as libraries and classrooms? The thing that I probably do best is teach. I love to teach. I always have believed that our most fundamental responsibilities were those that flowed to currently enrolled students. I also always have believed that good teaching went far beyond excellent performance in the formal classroom hour and did involve interaction with students in ways that would enhance their development in less formal ways.

I am not sure myself that the teaching mission has been lost and, if it was, that there hasn't been a resurgence in the recent past. Clearly, we do now recognize teaching excellence. In the last few years the trustees' resolution requiring both peer and student evaluations of teaching in every school has finally been implemented. There also is no question that teaching is receiving greater weight than it had in tenure and promotion decisions.

So I think by and large there is a recognition of the importance of teaching on campus. That recognition, I think, will be supported by investments. We are moving forward with the classroom renovation project. One key initiative included in the budget for next year is taking steps, over the course of a few years, to provide computer hook-ups in every dorm room in the University and support for the library has and will remain a high priority.

In your address at the board meeting, you praised the trustees for the advice and assistance they provided you over the past year and the "shared victories" of the recent past. What are some of those victories? My expression of appreciation to the trustees was genuine. I did not know what kind of a relationship I would have with them [as interim chancellor]. It was my hope over the course of the year, both individually and collectively, that they would be energized on behalf of the University. And I do believe that happened.

The kinds of support that they provided ranged from advice when I sought it, to access when I needed it, to support with fundraising and governmental relations on a number of different occasions. So, I always did feel that within the board I had partners who were not only interested, but sufficiently committed to invest their time and energy and prestige in ways that would help the University.

Among the victories that I would consider to be most important that depended upon their direct involvement were rebuilding the foundation for positive relationships with the commonwealth.

Also having what was a highly successful fundraising year under circumstances that were well short of ideal for those purposes.

You said that the development of human potential must extend beyond the formal classroom hour and involve broader responsibilities in the area of student life. What do you see the University doing to encourage leisure or informal learning? The first is my belief that good teachers are good mentors, that they know and are involved with their students beyond their formal teaching assignments. And I do think that we see quite a bit of that on the campus.

Beyond that, particularly when you are talking about undergraduate students, I think we need to recognize that the development of potential is a 24-hour-a-day process and that process can be enhanced both through effective programming and through appropriate facilities.

Whether you are talking about computerizing the dormitories or providing recreational locations for students on campus, I think we are doing something that is constructive. And when we also talk about some of the upcoming initiatives, like developing closer links between academic programming and life within the dormitories, I think we are talking about initiatives that also will make a difference.

"We want to be among the best in everything we do," you have said of Pitt. What do you mean by that? Do you envision cutting some programs the University might be weak in and concentrating on those in which it excels? I think you need to be careful whenever anyone asks you a question about cutting because reactions can quickly move beyond the proportion of the response.

It is absolutely clear, however, that we have been shifting resources within the institution over the course of the last few years. That process has been designed specifically to funnel new and increased levels of support to those areas either with demonstrated records of excellence or with the potential to achieve those levels.

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