Committee finds Scaife Hall namesake served Pitt well


A committee formed by Chancellor Patrick Gallagher in June, after medical students raised concerns about the naming of Scaife Hall, has reported back that the “issue does not warrant a further, fuller debate.”

The home of the School of Medicine was named for Alan Magee Scaife (1900-58), a philanthropist and former chair of Pitt’s Board of Trustees from 1949-58. The working group said in its report that, “It was clear in the reviewed materials that Scaife — while leading the Board — had a broad vision for improving Pittsburgh and that this vision included making health services available to all members of the community.”

The concerns about the Scaife name are linked to Alan Magee Scaife’s daughter, Cordelia Scaife May (1928-2005), who created the Colcom Foundation, a nonprofit that supports anti-immigration and eugenics causes.

The committee found that:

  • There is credible evidence that Scaife’s daughter funded anti-immigrant efforts through the Colcom Foundation. However, we found no record that Scaife himself — or even his wife, Sarah — had similar philanthropic interests.

  • We found no indication that Scaife, as Board chair, supported policies or processes that aided in exacerbating the prevailing climate of racial inequity. In fact, during this time, the schools of the health sciences forged significant partnerships with predominantly Black neighborhoods, which we believe indicates such efforts were of particular interest to Scaife. 

The actual name of the building is Alan Magee Scaife Hall, and the committee suggested “clearly communicating with the campus community — and the individuals who voiced concern — to clarify the correct name of the building and Alan Magee Scaife’s history of service to the University.”

Gallagher said the committee’s work reinforces the reasons the University named the building for Scaife.

“Alan Magee Scaife was a chair of the Board of Trustees; he was head of a fundraising committee for the university,” Gallagher said. “And many of those gifts that were made at that time were not only good for the region and good for underrepresented groups within the region, but for the University they were also in many ways what laid the groundwork for the rise of Pitt health sciences to the position of eventual pre-eminence that we enjoy today.”

The naming of buildings is a big decision for the University, Gallagher said, “but it’s so easy over time to forget why it was done and who that person was. I’d like to see some effort to making sure that there’s information, maybe within the buildings, that provides some of the backdrop and history and tells the story, so it doesn't just become a name on a building over a long period of time.”

In 2018, after six months of research and debate, the Board of Trustees voted to remove the name of founding dean Thomas Parran Jr. from the building housing the Graduate School of Public Health. Parran served as dean of the school from 1948 until 1958. The building was named in his honor in 1969.

Prior to his time at Pitt, Parran was U.S. surgeon general from 1938-48. During that time, Parran’s agency conducted the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study, in which hundreds of black men were denied effective treatment for syphilis so that the U.S. government and researchers could study the effects of the sexually transmitted disease when left untreated. 

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at or 412-648-4294.


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