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October 23, 2008

GSPIA turns 50: Looking back over 50 years

Three of the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs’ longest-serving employees — who combined represent more than 100 years of service to GSPIA — are awash with nostalgia as the school gets set to celebrate its 50th anniversary this weekend.

Donald Goldstein, who plans to retire from teaching next August after 35 years and some 11,000 students, recalled his first office in Bruce Hall, formerly an apartment building and the home of GSPIA at its 1958 founding.

“I had my own office, my own bathroom, a shower, and I could look out at Forbes Field,” then the site of Pirates home games, now Posvar Hall where GSPIA has been housed since 1978, Goldstein said.

“I remember meeting Don Stone, who founded the school. He was the kind of guy who when he walked into a room it was like E.F. Hutton, everybody stopped conversing,” Goldstein said.

“People would go to his house for parties, and he would have a function three or four times a week. These were social events, but they centered around school interests or issues. He would invite bigwigs from Westinghouse, Gulf, Rockwell,” he said.

Following Stone’s tenure as dean, the school was in a state of flux, in part because initially GSPIA was budgeted on soft money. John Funari, who was dean from 1974 to 1984, established a hard-money budget, recalled Goldstein, who joined the faculty in 1973.

“Of course, Oakland and Pittsburgh were much different in those days. We were the third-largest city in corporations; we were No. 7 in population, so it was booming,” he said.

Oakland was more vibrant in the 1970s, with more and better restaurant choices and movie houses, as well as on-campus football games at Pitt Stadium, he said.

What has changed for the better is the relationship between Pitt and the Oakland community, with more and better on-campus student housing and the city cracking down on slumlords, Goldstein said. “The city itself treats Pitt well because they know the impact Pitt and UPMC have on the economy.”

GSPIA also has experienced changes over the years, he said. “We had a lot of foreign students in those early days. We went from having a lot of Nigerians, to Indonesians, to Arabs, to Japanese and now we’re into Korea and China. Where the money’s flowing is where we get our people from,” he said.

Depending on where they come from and how well they know English, international students can have trouble adjusting to GSPIA’s programs, Goldstein said. Eastern European students have the least difficulty with the language, he noted.

Has he had to change his teaching style over the years?

“Yes, these days I’m basically ‘MTV-ing’ it,” Goldstein said. In order to relate to students, to speak their language and to present history lessons so that they are understandable, an instructor has to learn pop culture, he said.

“That’s not dumbing it down. You see what they’re singing, what they’re talking about, their movies, their sound bites. It’s tremendously helpful” in getting one’s message across, he said.

While today’s students are brighter, they also are less knowledgeable about basic history than their predecessors, he maintained. “The country’s in trouble because of that. You have to know your history and culture and the history and culture of other countries, too,” Goldstein said.

“If you take the economic crisis, people somehow think this is new. It’s not new. All you have to do is look back into the 1800s: You had over-production, over-speculation, poor banking and, last but not least, corruption. Or the Teapot Dome scandal in the 1920s, same thing. It’s a formula for a fall. We act like corruption is a brand-new thing, because we don’t remember back more than 15 years.”

GSPIA’s instructional support has increased exponentially during his tenure as professor, Goldstein said. “Two years ago I did a video conference with people in Poland, something I couldn’t have even imagined. One of the problems you have, though, is there’s nothing like a classroom. You get that one-on-one, the kids are there, the kids are mad, you argue, you build. The bottom line it’s still a classroom that’s the basic unit of all education. The money’s in research, but the results are in teaching,” he said.

Goldstein decried the philosophy that faculty today are expected to “do it all.”

“They expect professors to be a triple-threat: Do research, service and teaching. You can’t do it. They talk about teaching, but you better darn well do the research if you want to make tenure. I watched some great teachers come through here and not make tenure.”

Despite that, Goldstein maintains the University, generally, is bigger and better today, with improvements in most schools, especially the professional schools.

“When I first came here there was a lot of dissent between the faculty and the administration. That seems to have withered away. You know, we almost unionized at one point. Now it’s more of a positive collegiality.

“Our school gets much better support from the administration than we used to. That’s really changed. We’ve come a long way, and I think people are happy with the governance of [Provost James] Maher and [Chancellor Mark] Nordenberg. And they’ve shown tremendous fundraising abilities,” he said, referring to Pitt’s $2 billion capital campaign.

Grace Schetley, a GSPIA staff member for 41 years, fondly remembers the Bruce Hall days. Now assistant to the dean, she started as a clerk and stenographer, working part time while still in high school.

“In those days, GSPIA was spread out on most floors of Bruce Hall,” Schetley said. “I’m one of the ones who really did like Bruce Hall. It had apartments; there were some kitchens in the suite; there were full bathrooms. We used to joke if we had to stay overnight, which we never did, we were prepared.”

At first she worked for GSPIA’s Institute of Local Government, which offered non-degree training programs for local government officials in Allegheny and five surrounding counties.

“We were part of the school, but in a way, we weren’t. The faculty in the institute were faculty of the school, but the staff didn’t interact very much with the academic side, that is, the formal course work programs that would lead to a degree,” she said.

When the institute was disbanded in 1974, Schetley became a secretary. “We moved over here to Forbes Quad (now Posvar Hall) in 1978, one of the first units to move in. I worked for a group of faculty and then in 1981 I moved to the dean’s office as Dean Funari’s secretary and have been here ever since,” she said.

“This building is nice, and now our classrooms are wonderful. They’re all high-tech; everyone wants to use our classrooms, and I tell them, ‘We only have seven,’” said Schetley, who keeps an eye on room scheduling.

“After this summer’s renovation we have a video conference room. We’re going to have our first class in the spring, where the gentleman who’s teaching the class is in Washington, D.C.,” she said.

“The University is much bigger and the whole place is high-tech, which is great. Celebrating 50 years is exciting, especially since I’ve been here for 41 of those years. Some people are surprised that I’ve been here this long. But I think it says a lot about the faculty, the staff, the students that I still enjoy my job,” she said, while acknowledging that retirement is in the not-too-distant future.

As for GSPIA changes, she said, “I think they’re trying to do more with the alums, which is great. And we have the new Washington Center. We’ve all been working at establishing that. We’ll have a staff member from here starting in November. We’re looking forward to getting that up and running,” Schetley said.

“The world has changed and our programs have expanded. Every year, things are changing and we’re trying to develop more programs in line with what’s going on in the world, which you need to do.”

Assistant Dean Barbara Porter just missed the school’s move from Bruce Hall to Posvar Hall, then known as Forbes Quadrangle. “The school moved in February 1978 and I started here in August,” said Porter, who also is director of student services at GSPIA.

But Porter has seen physical plant changes in the school’s Posvar Hall surroundings. “There used to be a lot more wide-open spaces, and we had to build more offices to accommodate the growth of the school and that’s been a challenge.”

GSPIA students have changed over the years as well. Porter says they’ve gotten younger.

“Even the international students. From what I can gather, GSPIA used to have the more experienced students, from the pictures and some of the stories I’ve heard. By the time I got here, students were already starting to be younger,” Porter said.

As for other changes, Porter noted social and cultural shifts on campus. “I was in college in the late ’60s and early ’70s and at that time people were politically aware and involved,” she said.

“Then there was a trend away from some of the seriousness. People were engaged, including some of the students here, in less serious activities. You would think they would be more serious and more on top of issues being in a school like this. But I sensed there wasn’t that. And then, more in the 1980s, students began to see a degree as just a piece of paper to get a job. Very few people were vocal about what was going on the world and what they could do to help change the world. It was come here, get a degree, get a job. Students would not challenge a faculty member, like we used to do, because everyone was afraid of what it would do for their grades. You needed the grades to get the degree to get the job,” Porter said.

Students today are more like their 1970s counterparts, she believes. “We’re sort of going back. I don’t see a pell-mell rush to it, but I have a sense that people, students are more concerned about what’s happening out there and what contributions they can make to make the world a better place. They’re actually having discussions, reminiscent of the ones we used to stay up all hours of the night for. I guess things go in cycles,” she said.

“I also remember when I first started, there was a huge interest in things domestic. There were a lot of students who came to the programs that focused on domestic issues: our master of public administration program, for example,” she recalled.

Part of that was due to a national focus on domestic development, she said.

“Little by little, slowly but surely, the interest of this country turned outward. It became very interested in its relationship with other countries. As the U.S. turned its interests outward, then the students started to move into programs more internationally focused,” Porter said.

What goes around, comes around, she said. “What we have been working on recently is trying to get more students into our MPA program, which has more of a domestic focus. Knock on wood, we are able to maintain a small but steady growth in that program. Now, given all the crazy things that have happened in the financial crisis, there may be even more interest.”

Students who want to focus on the financial crisis would have a number of options to pursue in GSPIA, she said, including the MPA program, the security and intelligence studies program and the global political economy major in international affairs.

Similarly, international students can enroll in either of GSPIA’s two degree programs that focus on international development, she said.

“This financial crisis may have started as a U.S. thing, but it’s not just a U.S. problem,” Porter said. “So you have all these entry points, all these issues that have unfolded. It’s why I like being here. You have faculty members, and students, too, who can talk about this at all levels. International markets are inextricably intertwined,” Porter said.

“What scares me, and keeps me awake at night, though, is how will the students finance their education?” said Porter, who oversees recruitment and enrollment management efforts at GSPIA. “When there are not a lot of jobs, people tend to come to school, but they can’t if they can’t get the loans,” she said.

Despite her concern about students’ ability to finance their education, life at GSPIA is good, Porter said. “I think it’s an exciting time to be in a school like this, given everything that’s going on in the world and having students and faculty chatting about it, giving and taking about what’s going on. I just find that terribly exciting because that’s why we’re here.”

—Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 41 Issue 5

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