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June 22, 2017

Staff Association Council Officer Leaves Legacy of Larger, Influential Organization

Rich Colwell

Rich Colwell, president of the Staff Association Council for decades, is photographed in his office in Benedum Hall, Swanson School of Engineering.

The Staff Association Council’s longest-serving officer is leaving office after 21 years, confident that the council has grown into an integral part of University decision-making for staff policies and benefits.

SAC President Rich Colwell, senior client services technical lead for the freshman program in the Swanson School of Engineering’s technology group, says his run as a SAC leader has been focused on growing member participation, and cementing the group’s role in shared governance.

“My goal was to get everybody in SAC involved, not just the president and officers,” said Colwell. “If you look at the organization now, everybody is working and everybody has input.

“I’ve done a lot to remove a lot of the responsibility from the president of SAC down to the officers,” Colwell said. “I want the people who do the work to get credit for the work.” And he was happy not to be SAC’s sole face in the Pitt community, too. “The new members coming in want to change things … they don’t want to sit back and watch,” he added. “And they’ll do the work to support the changes.

“When the University goes to do anything that affects staff, we’re now part of that procedure,” he said, citing SAC collaborations with Vice Chancellor for Human Resources Cheryl Johnson that led to the implementation of a paid parental leave policy at Pitt, and an earlier effort to allow retention of email addresses by retirees.

Colwell began working at Pitt in 1985 and joined SAC just a few years later, when securing parking for staff and the perennial subject of salaries were the biggest issues the council was addressing. The group was half its current size of 70 members and “just an advisory group,” he recalled, with less influence on campus.

Colwell recalled being reluctantly persuaded into running for office by SAC’s then-current president. “He talked me into it,” said Colwell. “I didn’t really want to do it.” Cowell was elected vice president for steering in 1996 and served three one-year and a single two-year terms in that office. He also held the presidency for three one-year and three two-year terms, until 2013.

That year, another member was elected SAC president – then left for a job outside Pitt a few months later. Colwell was recruited to return as SAC head.

“I feel like I can get involved and make effective change,” he said of his decision to remain in SAC leadership through the years. He likes the idea that SAC can influence University policies and practices prior to their adoption and implementation.

“You’re always going to find that the issues are salaries, supervisory training, the same issues that we’ve been pushing,” he said. “Have we had some leeway on those items? Yes. But there’s a lot more that has to be done.”

As he becomes an officer emeritus (a role on SAC’s executive committee) on July 1 — and remains a SAC member, Colwell is confident about SAC’s future under new officers, all of whom have been among the group’s steadiest workers in recent years. SAC should “continue to be more involved in the shared governance of the University,” particularly in budgeting and planning, and meet regularly with senior administrators, he said.

Colwell reflected on his 21-year reign. “How can you sum up 21 years? It’s been a ride and I enjoyed being a part of the changes that Staff Council initiated,” he said. “I think we’ve come a long way.”


Marty Levine,, 412-758-4859

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