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July 3, 1996

Text of Mark Nordenberg's speech to the trustees

Following is the text of the speech given by Mark Nordenberg upon his appointment as Pitt's 17th permanent chancellor at the Board of Trustees' annual meeting on June 20.

Some five years ago, Henry Rosovsky, the long-term dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard, published a book entitled, "The University: An Owner's Manual." Very early in the text, Dean Rosovsky offers the following observation: 'Fully two thirds to three quarters of the best universities in the world are located in the United States… What [other] sector of our economy and society can make a similar statement? One can think of baseball, football, and basketball teams, but that pretty much exhausts the list… It has been suggested to me that we are home to a similar proportion of the world's leading hospitals. Since most of these are part of university medical schools, my point is reinforced.' The dean's assessment clearly can be read with pride by those who have contributed to the advancement of our University — which, particularly in the last 25 years, has become one of this country's strongest. Given what has happened to other segments of American society, his assessment also can be viewed as a warning of sorts. In a very real sense, we have been entrusted with a treasure, which we now must work to nurture and protect.

Pitt has been a remarkably resilient institution since its founding more than two centuries ago. It has survived fires and floods and financial crises. And it has changed to meet the needs of the times — transforming itself from a log-cabin school located on the edge of the frontier into one of the world's leading research universities. In fact, we are so inclined to take its current form and stature for granted that even those of us who daily labor in its cause often lose sight of our University's size, complexity and quality.

Today, Pitt is the academic home to more than 32,000 students, nearly 4,000 faculty and well over 5,000 staff members — who live and learn and work on our five campuses. Our 170,000 alumni are contributing citizens in every corner of the world, with the single largest group — more than 6,000 strong — residing right here in Allegheny County. The quality of our programs in areas as diverse as philosophy and transplantation surgery has received international recognition. We now annually import into this community nearly one-quarter of a billion dollars in sponsored project support. And we have emerged, in the minds of many, as this region's single most important institutional citizen — the leading educator, the largest employer, an enhancer of the overall quality of life, and the most promising source of the ideas and technology that may breathe new life into the area's economy.

The prominent position we now occupy carries with it both opportunities and responsibilities. And dealing effectively with both presents challenges. Among the most pressing, we are being asked to shoulder increasingly heavy loads in a less hospitable economic environment. As a result, we must pursue our priorities and marshal our resources with heightened care.

An important sense of overall direction was provided through the Board [of Trustees] resolutions adopted earlier in this calendar year. An overarching theme was an unbounded quest for quality. Simply put, we want to be among the best in everything that we do. And in terms of our traditional missions in teaching, research and service, three important statements were made.

The first was a strong reaffirmation of commitment to our students, with a particular emphasis on undergraduate education. We already have some very good programs — our Honors College and its record in producing Rhodes and Marshall Scholars is one good example — but we believe that we can become even better. And we recognize that the development of human potential extends beyond the formal classroom hour and involves broader responsibilities in the area of student life.

The second was a recognition that what distinguishes Pitt from institutions focusing exclusively on teaching are the contributions we make to the expansion of knowledge through research. In fact, the most dramatic advances in Pitt's institutional stature have been tied directly to the size and quality of our research programs. To further our position within the international academic community, it is essential that we maintain the quality of our top programs and identify and support those programs throughout the University that are positioned to attract similar recognition in the future.

The third was an express acknowledgment of the important role that the University must play as an institutional citizen. The strength of our University is directly dependent upon the strength of the region. And it also is true, more than ever, that the strength of the region requires a strong, caring and contributing University of Pittsburgh.

As already has been suggested, advancing each of these core goals will require dedication, discipline and a willingness to embrace new and better ways of approaching old tasks. To maximize our institutional impact, we must: 1) Assemble a senior administrative team that is capable, creative, and committed to the University and its academic mission; 2) Work tirelessly to ensure that the institution is well managed, committed to excellence, and always moving forward; 3) Move aggressively to identify and seize opportunities to increase our efficiency and cost-effectiveness; 4) Generate the resources — through governmental relations, private fundraising and the development of alternative funding streams — that will be required for us to achieve our full potential; and 5) Partner effectively with government leaders, citizen groups and other institutions to enhance the strength of our home communities.

Substantial progress on each of these fronts has been made during the past year, and each will remain an important part of our near-term agenda.

In the epilogue to his history of the University of Pittsburgh, published in conjunction with our Bicentennial, Robert Alberts wrote: 'One of the conclusions I have come to in writing this history is that this is essentially a success story — a happy chronicle of sound and worthwhile accomplishment. For almost two hundred years there has been an output of a good product: an annual harvest of young people admirably trained to earn a living, to make a contribution to their community, their profession and their country.' It is very special, indeed, to have the opportunity to build upon that kind of legacy.

I am extremely grateful to the members of the board for this overwhelming vote of confidence in me. I also am extremely grateful for the advice and assistance that board members, and others, have so generously extended during the last 10 months. The shared victories of the recent past provide the surest source of hope for the future. I have no doubt that — despite the challenges we must face together — very bright days lie ahead for the University of Pittsburgh.

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