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July 6, 1995

Connolly takes over as trustees' head

Among the seven trustees who voted in favor of the resolution to reconsider Chancellor J. Dennis O'Connor's severance package was the board's new chairperson, J. Wray Connolly.

The resolution was defeated, 10-7, although the show-of-hands vote was 12-6. It turned out that two of the trustees who voted against the resolution — John C. Marous and Peter Stipanovich — had become ineligible to vote earlier in the meeting when Marous was elected a non-voting emeritus trustee and Stipanovich's term as an alumni trustee expired.

Connolly did not raise his hand. Rather, he recorded his vote later with board secretary Robert Dunkelman.

Following the meeting, Connolly called the debate over O'Connor's $177,200 post-sabbatical faculty salary "healthy" if unusually contentious for a Pitt trustees meeting. "I think it was essential to clear the air on Dennis's compensation, and now it's been cleared. Whether you were for or against that resolution, it's over and done with and we're going to move on." As for his own vote, the retired Heinz senior vice president said: "I don't think it's relevant at this point. The board has spoken, and that's it. What I'm interested in is moving on. I hope that this was the last of the meetings where we go through some of these rancorous issues and that we begin to focus on the future." Connolly told the trustees that for the immediate future, Pitt must deal with a number of issues: the University's financial constraints; a lack of preparedness for a major capital campaign; student retention ("the primary source of our enrollment problem this year and a not insignificant part of our fiscal problem"); a poor public image; and the United Faculty's effort to unionize non-medical Pitt faculty, an effort that Connolly opposes.

"We need to do everything possible to create an environment that encourages the best possible candidates to have an interest in leading this great university," he told the board.

To help find candidates to be Pitt's new permanent chancellor, the University has hired Korn/Ferry International, a Washington, D.C.,-based university executive search firm, Connolly announced.

He also said Pitt will hire an outside consultant to make a "broad and realistic" assessment of the University during the next several months. Connolly said a firm hasn't been selected yet and declined to estimate how much the study will cost.

"This will be somebody coming in here to help us make a really objective assessment of where we are as a university," Connolly said. "One of the things that this board needs to do is sit down and decide where we want this University to be in the years ahead. In order to do that, we need to know where we are now. Then we'll sit down as a group — we'll have input from all the constituencies of the University — and we'll set the course for the future." In October, the trustees approved a five-year plan for Pitt called "Toward the 21st Century: Mission, Goals, Strategies, and Evaluation." Connolly said he has read the plan three times and considers it "a good initial step" but also "very vague." "A lot of the statements in that report are in conflict with one another — for example, having a goal of increasing students' SAT scores while at the same time enrolling more disadvantaged and more difficult-to-educate students. Not that those goals are necessarily in conflict, but they could be," Connolly said.

"I think we really need to refine that [21st century plan] and develop a mission for this University that is clear and that is understood by everyone from the lowest-level employee to the chancellor of the University." Pitt's chancellor will likewise have a clear mission, Connolly said. Referring to outgoing Chancellor J. Dennis O'Connor's complaint that the trustees set no goals for him when he began work at Pitt in 1991, Connolly said: "I think Dennis was absolutely correct when he referenced the fact that he had been given no goals. I think that's pretty appalling, I really do. I can tell you that [Interim Chancellor] Mark Nordenberg will have goals, and he and I have already begun to discuss those goals. It's very difficult to work for a board of trustees if people don't know where you want to go. We are going to know where we want to go, and we're going to get there." In nominating Nordenberg as interim chancellor — the board approved the appointment unanimously — Connolly told the trustees that Nordenberg "has served with distinction in challenging roles in the past, and I have no doubt he will do so again. When I asked Mark if he would consider taking on this assignment, I made it clear to him that we were not looking for someone to warm a seat over the next year or so, but rather someone who is prepared to take on tough challenges and make some of the tough decisions that this University faces. I am confident that we can and will do just this with the mandate that you give him through your approval of his appointment." Nordenberg and Provost James Maher will work together to strengthen Pitt's relations with the state government, Connolly said. "The Commonwealth is not an unwanted minority shareholder in the University but an essential contributor to the success that we have had, and we want them to become an even bigger contributor in the future," he said.

Connolly said he was pleased with the Board of Trustees' current members and what he called a growing commitment among trustees to serve the University. But he warned trustees that future board meetings may take up whole mornings of their time rather than the two hours that meetings in recent years have averaged. "Three mornings a year is a pretty small commitment given the challenges that lie ahead for what, in my view, is the most important institution in this area," Connolly said.

After the meeting, Connolly said he agreed with trustee Frank Lucchino that Pitt's board, with 50 members, is unwieldy. "I think the board is too big, but to some extent that's an accident of history," said Connolly, noting that since the mid-1960s Pitt had added 12 state-appointed Commonwealth trustees and 14 special trustees. "If we could have six Commonwealth trustees and reduce the core board to 18 members, it wouldn't bother me. It might bother a lot of other people, but not me," Connolly said.

— Bruce Steele

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