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July 20, 2006

UPG president to retire

Frank A. Cassell, president of the Greensburg campus, has announced that he will retire from that position, effective June 30, 2007.

Cassell, 65, became president of Pitt-Greensburg in 1997. Under his leadership, enrollment has grown from 1,050 to 1,700, 13 buildings were renovated or built, classrooms and laboratories were modernized and a new campus entrance was constructed.

“I’m enormously proud to have been associated with Pitt-Greensburg for the past decade, which has seen our campus transformed in virtually every way,” Cassell told the University Times.

“It’s good to be the president during such a good time, but the president is just a small part of the successes we’ve enjoyed.”

Reflecting on his tenure as UPG’s leader, Cassell said the most obvious changes to the campus are increased enrollment and improvements in its physical plant, which includes beautification projects in addition to expansion.

“What is less obvious is our progress in defining our mission and what makes our campus unique,” he said. “When I first came here that [latter] question hadn’t really been asked before. But what I was impressed with were the ambitions that faculty and staff had for the institution and where it could go. I talked with every faculty member and I met with the staff and we gathered an enormous amount of information. They indicated that they would work very hard to reach whatever goals we developed. They just needed a leader.”

That process led to a plan dubbed Investing in Excellence, which had the support of the campus’s employees from the get-go, he added.

“When I got here, we were already planning to increase the number of residence halls, but the biggest question had to be, What is the nature of the educational experience at UPG?” he said.

The campus did not want to introduce the Greek system of residences, which has a limiting effect on social interactions, Cassell said. “Instead, we were looking at a healthy system to enrich the experiences of students beyond the classroom and to attract students to live on campus, and so we developed the Academic Villages, which are organized around a single educational agenda. But for the villages to succeed we needed the commitment of the faculty to run them and we got that.”

The villages also led to unprecedented cooperation between Academic Affairs and Student Services, which ordinarily would oversee residence hall programming, he said.

Also from the Investment in Excellence plan came specific goals that would inform curricula, requirements and educational philosophy, Cassell said.

“I called the goals the four cardinal points — and I’m sure by now everyone’s sick of hearing me talk about them,” he said. Those points are academic excellence, leadership, public service and global awareness.

The cardinal points are not requirements but more students are buying into the philosophy behind them, he added.

“So the philosophy with leadership, for instance, is that we should not graduate any student without some leadership training and experience. From that, we developed as a companion to the academic transcript a student activities transcript that could document a student’s involvement and be used in job interviews.

“And, we said, we should not graduate anyone who has not had some study abroad experience. From that, we developed the Rossetti fund, which supports students who study abroad.”

Cassell also secured agreements with the University of Havana and the University of Guanajuato, Mexico, that allow UPG students to work and study at these institutions. “The Havana one is dormant at this time because of issues with the [U.S.] State Department, but the Guanajuato agreement is in full swing,” he said.

The global awareness goal has had a rippling effect across the campus, he said. “It’s not just study abroad itself. It involves international travel management, so staffing [responsibilities] have changed. It involves fundraising to make opportunities available to all students. It’s also on-campus global awareness, which means course creation, and programs that emphasize international culture, like our La Cultura program. La Cultura takes a campus-wide interdisciplinary look at a culturally significant era in history. We’re really breaking new ground here with this effort.”

Cassell further pointed to improved town-and-gown relations during his tenure. “When I was hired, the chancellor and the provost expressed concern that we did not have good community relations,” he said.

To remedy that, Cassell formed joint ventures with the Smart Growth Partnership of Westmoreland County and Westmoreland Heritage, both of which have offices at UPG. A newcomer to the group is the Westmoreland Forum, where the campus hosts educators, experts and practitioners who discuss important policy issues, such as health care, in a public forum.

Cassell also cited improved conditions for staff at the campus over the past decade. “When I came here, the staff was not in good shape in terms of salary, morale and other problems,” he said. “I knew we were expanding, so we’d have to hire more staff, but it also was a question of organizing them: No one was really looking out for staff. So I suggested they form the Staff Association, where they could elect members who would meet with me to discuss whatever problems there were.”

He also created staff recognition awards, and hosts an annual holiday social bash for faculty, staff and their partners.

Cassell acknowledged that some goals have yet to be achieved. “We set as a goal to have 50 percent of our students live on campus, and we now have about 600 of the 1,700 who do. But we’re moving in the right direction.”

Cassell, who this spring was a finalist for the head post at University of Minnesota-Morris, said he has no plans to pursue another position following his retirement from UPG. “This is the end of my 40 years in education,” he said. “But, as I’ve told the faculty and staff, just because I’m retiring doesn’t mean they can work any less hard. I expect this to be a very aggressive year for us.”

He believes his successor will be inheriting a good situation. “We have a very strong teaching faculty here, a beautiful, growing campus and an aspiration to be among the very best liberal arts colleges in the country. And we have momentum as an institution on the move upward, with higher quality students,” Cassell said.

Cassell earned a B.A. in history from Wabash College and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in history from Northwestern University. He began his faculty career at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he held positions as professor of history, chair of the history department, assistant chancellor for university relations and dean of the School of Social Welfare. He also served as vice provost and dean at Roosevelt University’s Albert A. Robin campus from 1991 to 1997.

Cassell is the author of “Merchant Congressman in the Young Republic: Samuel Smith of Maryland, 1752-1839.” He co-authored “The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee: A Historical Profile, 1885-1992” and co-edited “Seeds of Crisis: Public Schooling in Milwaukee Since 1920.”

Cassell also has written extensively about the legacy of Gen. Edward Braddock and published numerous articles and book reviews in scholarly journals. He has received awards from various historical societies.

In commenting on Cassell’s decision to retire, Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg stated, “During Dr. Cassell’s tenure as its president, the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg has advanced on every front. Its academic programs are stronger, its student life is richer and its campus is more attractive. He also has been an exceptional civic leader who has built bridges to the community that should last for many years to come.”

“I have very much enjoyed working with President Cassell,” added Provost James V. Maher. “The La Cultura program he developed has been successful in promoting global awareness and study abroad opportunities for students at the Greensburg campus. He has been a successful fundraiser and a strong advocate for regional partnerships.”

A search committee will be formed to identify Cassell’s successor by next spring.

—Peter Hart

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