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February 5, 2009

Pitt will punish student vandals, chancellor says

Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg has committed “to deal quickly and aggressively,” with any Pitt student who violated laws or the Student Code of Conduct following last Sunday’s Super Bowl.

After the Steelers’ victory, thousands of revelers took to the streets of Pittsburgh; a number of them caused damage in Oakland that included arson, overturned vehicles, a razed bus shelter and broken windows.

In a sharply worded Feb. 3 campus update, Nordenberg promised Pitt’s cooperation with law enforcement agencies in investigating and prosecuting those charged with crimes and said judicial procedure charges would be filed against Pitt students who violated the student conduct code, regardless of whether they face criminal charges.

“Our judicial procedures provide for the fair and expeditious disposition of Student Code of Conduct charges, with available sanctions including permanent dismissal from the University,” Nordenberg wrote.

He acknowledged that the football victory was worth celebrating peacefully. “But for some within the group to distort a process of public celebration through acts that put others at risk of physical harm, that included the deliberate destruction of the property of others, that extended to attacks on local businesses that serve the members of our community on a daily basis and that involved vandalism to facilities serving our educational mission and adding to the aesthetics and functionality of this campus is indefensible,” he stated. “Regrettably, that group of offenders included Pitt students.”

The process of filing charges against an unspecified number of students under the Student Code of Conduct already has begun, the chancellor stated, and additional arrests likely will follow as the University Police Department reviews videotape, still camera photos and other media that captured some of the disturbance, he said.

More than 150 police officers reportedly made at least 83 arrests in Oakland by Monday morning. Charges included public disorder, arson, criminal mischief, public drunkenness, drug possession and assault.

“Moving forward, we intend [to] rebuild relationships with our neighbors and work with student leaders to ensure that this type of disturbance is not repeated on any of our campuses ever again,” Nordenberg wrote.


The University Senate community relations committee (CRC) discussed the recent vandalism and its effects at a meeting Feb. 3 that included invited guests from Oakland community organizations and a Student Government Board (SGB) representative.

Members of the committee noted that while not all the damage and criminal acts were caused by Pitt students, the perception is that the disturbance was Pitt-related.

CRC member Tracy Soska commented, “We had national, and even international, attention here at that time. Those kinds of things happen other places, but we had the whole world watching when this was going on.”

Renny Clark, vice chancellor for community initiatives and chief of staff in the Office of the Chancellor, said, “As we move forward, this committee may have a role to help advance the chancellor’s conviction that this is intolerable and will not be tolerated in the future. The unfortunate part is this has occurred just at a time when we had achieved an incredible relationship with the community. I do appreciate that the student leadership has been very responsive and appalled by these actions.”

SGB member Alexa Jennings promised to support efforts to ensure that such disturbances are avoided in the future. “This is something I will be speaking with [SGB] President Kevin Morrison about addressing in his commentary at the next board meeting,” Jennings said. She added that there is a listserve of student organizations available for SGB to disseminate information quickly.

“We can send the message out to 200 student organization leaders and get them on board,” she said.

—Peter Hart

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