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June 8, 1995

Nordenberg chosen as interim chancellor

After months of rumors, law professor Mark Nordenberg has been selected by the Board of Trustees as interim chancellor to succeed Chancellor J. Dennis O'Connor when O'Connor steps down on Aug. 1. Nordenberg said he was approached about the interim chancellor's job in mid-May when board chairperson-designate J.W. Connolly told him that O'Connor had decided to leave office earlier than had been anticipated.

Although flattered by the offer, Nordenberg says that over the past year, since his tenure as interim provost ended with the appointment of James Maher to permanent provost, he has been enjoying his return to faculty life.

"To be honest," he says, "I was not certain whether the position of interim chancellor was a path I should take. But, at the same time, I saw this as an almost unique opportunity arising at a time of particular need." In making the offer to Nordenberg, whose salary and benefits package was set today by the board's compensation committee [see trustees' story on this page], Connolly did not attach any time limit to the position. "The request that was made of me was to serve in this position until a permanent appointment was made following the completion of the search," Nordenberg says.

Likewise, according to Nordenberg, the board has not given him a mandate. He says all of his discussions with the board have been general in nature. "He [Connolly] hoped I would be energetic while functioning in the interim position and would work for progress on a broad range of fronts, but there has been no mandate." Nordenberg himself says it is too early for him to outline any specific course of action he might pursue as interim chancellor. He would say only that he believes discussions between himself and Connolly have left both of them with a sense that they can work together and a belief that they share a commitment to make the most of the months ahead.

"There are limits on what I think is appropriate for me to say now," he adds, "largely because all of this has unfolded very quickly for me and I like to believe that I am a person who thinks carefully about actions before they're undertaken and I really haven't had a chance to do that." About possibly becoming Pitt's permanent chancellor, Nordenberg says he has been told by the trustees that his service as interim chancellor "would not preclude my becoming a candidate for a more permanent appointment." When he was appointed interim provost, Nordenberg said he was not interested in the permanent provost job. Later, he changed his mind. This time, he says, he will wait until he better understands the responsibilities of the chancellor before making a decision about seeking the post on a permanent basis. "I guess that is one of the benefits of serving in an interim capacity," he notes. "You have the opportunity to assess the situation from a very close position." Concerning his general approach to the interim chancellor's job, Nordenberg points out that Pitt has been "a wonderful professional home" for him since he joined the faculty in 1977. He says the University has given him many opportunities that might not have come to him elsewhere.

Nordenberg has served as dean of the law school, 1985-1993; interim provost, Sept. 1, 1993-June 30, 1994, and as chair of the latest search committee for a senior vice chancellor for Health Sciences.

By accepting the interim chancellor's post, he feels he can give something back to the University. "People often think that I have kind of an old-fashioned sense of responsibility," he notes, "but it really does make me feel good to contribute to an institution that has been so good to me in so many different ways." Looking at it from another perspective, Nordenberg says, he loves to work, likes challenges and takes great satisfaction in overcoming tough problems. His dedication to Pitt and claim that he works hard are backed up by the fact that he is usually in his office before 7 a.m. and that he chaired the Health Science search while on sabbatical.

"I like people," he adds. "I listen to people. I learn from people. And I fully understand that in an institution of this type almost all of the progress that is made is the product of some kind of partnerships or collective activity. So, I hope that over the course of the next year, or however long this interim period might last, I'll be able to work with all of the people who share similar commitments to the University and similar hopes for its future and that together we can keep things moving forward." News of Nordenberg's selection has received a generally positive response from members of the University community.

James Holland, outgoing president of the University Senate, said he likes the appointment, but thinks some Senate members still resent Norden-berg's "ambush" of the Senate's tenure and academic freedom committee (TAFC) at the November 1993 Senate Council meeting.

During that meeting, Nordenberg angered the TAFC when he strongly defended a pair of 1992 decisions by former Provost Donald Henderson to deny tenure to a law faculty member (even though the law faculty had recommended granting it) and the renewal of an appointment to a medical research instructor.

"I think Mark gets things done," Holland said. "He works very systematically. He listens to the issues. I think he will represent the University well to all the various constituencies. He is very straight in what he says. People when they hear him know they're getting truthful statements." Staff Association Council (SAC) President Darlene Harris said that staff members who have been involved in the University's governance process often worked with Nordenberg when he was interim provost and "seem to be comforted by the fact he is going to be taking over as interim chancellor. They seem to trust him." Brian Hart, interim chair of SAC's steering committee, served on the search committee for a senior vice chancellor for Health Sciences that was chaired by Nordenberg. Hart said he cannot imagine anybody better for the interim chancellor's post.

"When I was working with him on the search committee, I found him to be very attentive personally to the members of the committee," he said. "He was very receptive to the various ideas that were presented. "I know he has done a lot to improve the representation of staff on various committees," Hart added. "He welcomed me, as the staff representative on the search committee, and treated me very much as he would have any of his colleagues." Sharon Nelson-Le Gall, co-chair of the Senate's educational policies committee, worked with Nordenberg on the University Planning and Budgeting Committee and served on the provost search committee. She said: "I do not think, for the time and place we're in, that we could do better than Mark." According to Nelson-Le Gall, Nordenberg is "reasonable, thoughtful and a consensus builder, extremely hard-working and well organized." Regarding the faculty member who was denied tenure, Nelson-Le Gall said some faculty may still resent Norden-berg's role in that case, but that she has talked with others, including tenured women law faculty, who said Nordenberg has been very supportive in recruiting and promoting women and minority faculty.

–Mike Sajna and Bruce Steele

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