Letter to the editor: Pitt needs its first Black chancellor


(Originally published in the New Pittsburgh Courier)

On April 7, 2022, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher informed members of the Pitt community that he intended to step down from his role as chancellor sometime in the summer of 2023. As the Pitt Board of Trustees prepares to implement this critical administrative transition, everyone should take note of the fact that only white men have served as Pitt’s chancellors since 1787!  

Parenthetically, there are many other senior positions at Pitt that have been the sole provinces of whites. Therefore, now is the time for Pitt to join others in ending centuries of unjust practices related to filling the most senior administrative positions in historically White institutions of higher education.

 Those seeking to replace Chancellor Gallagher should be mindful of the fact that other institutions have been pacesetters in terms of ending only whites serving as chancellors and presidents. 

As noted in the Jan. 31, 2022 Chicago Crusader, “In 2020, we saw the appointments of Jonathan Holloway of Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey; Lynn Wooten of Simmons University in Boston, Massachusetts; Dwight A. McBride of The New School in New York City; Darryll J. Pines of the University of Maryland; Lori White of DePauw University in Green Castle, Indiana; and Gregory Washington of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. … In 2021, there were more appointments, including William Tate IV at Louisiana State University; Laurie A. Carter at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin; Brian O. Hemphill at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia; Vincent D. Rougeau at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts; and Michael V. Drake at the University of California — one of the largest university systems run by an African American — after he served successfully as president of Ohio State University from 2014 to 2020.”  

Since Clifton Wharton’s 1970 appointment as President of Michigan State, there have also been Black chancellors/presidents at institutions such as Bowling Green State University; University of California, Davis; University of California, Irvine; Brown University; University of Houston; Smith College; Temple University; and, of great significance, the outgoing Black president of University of Maryland Baltimore County was recently followed by a Black woman. Pittsburgh’s Francine McNairy, a Pitt graduate, served as president of Millersville University.

We are in a season of significant firsts with a Black woman having been elected vice president of the United States; the appointment of the Supreme Court’s first Black woman; and, locally, Carlow University’s appointment of Kathy Humphrey as its first Black president, as well as the election of Pittsburgh’s first Black mayor, Ed Gainey. Surely a world-class institution such as Pitt can shatter its conspicuous glass ceiling when it comes to the appointment of its next chancellor.  

Chancellor Patrick Gallagher has tirelessly championed diversity, inclusion, equity and social justice during his tenure at Pitt. As Chancellor Gallagher would no doubt be first to admit, there remains much to be done to make Pitt what it ought to be in these areas. Significantly, Pitt’s website aptly states, “Reinvention never stops.”  What better way to acknowledge and advance Chancellor Gallagher’s work than by making the 18th chancellor the last White male chancellor in a row at Pitt?  

As has been said before when making an urgent call to action, “If not us, who? And if not now, when?”  Moreover, as President John F. Kennedy relatedly put the matter, “Every accomplishment starts with the decision to try.”     

Jack L. Daniel is a distinguished service professor emeritus from the Department of Communications and vice provost emeritus for undergraduate studies and former dean of students.