By SUSAN JONES
David Brown started as vice chancellor for government relations and advocacy in May and was immediately thrust into the ongoing struggle to secure Pitt’s funding from the state. But Brown, who most recently served as vice president of federal relations for the University of Southern California, took it all in stride.
“From a government relations perspective, it’s not unusual. It is what we do, even though we were kind of hitting the ground running,” he said. “If you ask anybody who’s been doing this work — like me, for 20-plus years — there’s always frustration. The politics of things do tend to get in the way, but you do your best to work through those. You represent your university and the students, faculty and staff, and that’s really all you can do.”
Starting during the appropriation process, he said, gave him a chance to “get to know how my team operates and how the chancellor operates and how the chancellor’s office operates.”
Despite all the news about lawmakers who were opposed to Pitt funding, Brown said one of his key takeaways from the state budget process was that, “There are a lot of individuals, both in the House and the Senate, both Republicans and Democrats in Harrisburg, certainly the governor’s office, who are very supportive of the University of Pittsburgh and understand that the funding they provide does, in fact, support Pennsylvania students, Pennsylvania families and help lower the cost of tuition and increase access to really a world-class university.”
Universities throughout the country are struggling with similar funding issues, Brown said. “It’s just incumbent on us to make the case about the value that we provide and the value not only that we provide to Pennsylvania students and families, but the value we provide to the state, the value that we provide the region and I think society in general relative to not just higher ed, but the research that we conduct that benefits society.”
Now his priority is raising the profile of the government relations office both on and off campus.
“I think one of the the first to-dos is to create better internal/external communications in terms of what the University of Pittsburgh Government Relations Office does, and the value it provides and the resource it can be for students, faculty and staff,” he said.
He plans to get out and introduce himself on campus with the goal of opening lines of communication between all the schools and all the research that’s being conducted. Brown wants to learn “what the future is for University of Pittsburgh’s research portfolio, what our priorities are, and get a sense of how my office can provide value to that.”
He wants to work with his office’s communications team to “make sure that the University faculty, staff, schools and other internal stakeholders have a really clear sense of what we do and why we do it and the resources that we can provide.”
This includes not just helping members of the Pitt community obtain funding, but also getting their work out in front of legislative or committee staff, and making Pitt a resource for lawmakers.
“Hopefully, we can kind of translate that into University faculty, staff, leadership serving on federal agency boards, White House task forces,” he said. “It’s very important, I think, for the University to have a high profile in terms of providing testimony at congressional hearings. Those types of things play into raising the profile of the University and the government relations office.”
Though he’s done work at the local, state and national level, Brown says his primary background is dealing with the federal government.
“There’s a lot of attention that we need to provide to the federal level and … to build those relationships with all the members of the Pennsylvania congressional delegation,” he said.
Pitt has a research portfolio of more than $1 billion, with a large majority of that coming from federal agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense. In addition, Pitt students receive substantial financial support from the federal Department of Education.
Brown said Pitt also should be collaborating with local, regional and state agencies to secure federal funds for infrastructure projects. “That’s certainly a source of support that the University can provide to the region,” he said.
A recent semiconductor production bill passed by Congress is another example of what Pitt’s federal relations team will be working on. The legislation aims to increase domestic production of semiconductors. It includes billions of dollars for manufacturers and authorizes a potential $100 billion over five years for scientific research and other programs. Brown said Pitt would be working with other universities to help secure the actual appropriations for NSF, the Department of Energy and other agencies, which would then be funneled to research institutions.
Brown said taking the job at Pitt was an easy decision.
“The University of Pittsburgh is nationally recognized, certainly from an educational higher ed perspective, but even more so, from a research perspective,” he said. “It’s one of the most significant universities relative to research throughout the country and certainly it being an AAU university kind of tells you that this is a great place to be.”
He said it was a good time for he and his wife to make a transition — their youngest child is a sophomore in college, another is in graduate school and the third has finished graduate school. They also were looking to get out of the Washington, D.C., metro area for someplace smaller.
Brown also was glad to have an opportunity to work with Chancellor Patrick Gallagher, who is the sitting AAU chairman. Plus, Brown said, “I really was impressed during the interview with the senior leadership team.”
He received his master’s degree in health administration from Virginia Commonwealth University and his bachelor’s from the University of Virginia. Prior to USC, Brown worked with leading research universities, including an 11-year tenure advocating for the University of California health system on issues related to health professions, training and biomedical research.
Brown succeeds Paul Supowitz, who is now special assistant for strategic initiatives in the Office of the Chancellor. Supowitz joined Pitt in 1997 and has held leadership roles in government relations since 2002.
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-244-4042.
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