Provost Cudd speaks out on her visions for Pitt


In her new position as provost, Ann E. Cudd has her sights set on increasing Pitt’s overall diversity, filling interim positions and addressing gender pay gaps.

Cudd succeeded former provost Patricia Beeson as provost on Sept. 1 after serving as an administrator and professor of philosophy at Boston University.

She also worked for the University of Kansas for 25 years in several roles, including university distinguished professor of philosophy, vice provost and dean of undergraduate studies.

The University Times interviewed Cudd a few weeks into her new role about her aspirations for Pitt and more. The questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.

How does Pitt compare to Boston University and the University of Kansas?

It’s a really interesting sort of middle ground between the two. Kansas is a public university, the flagship of Kansas, and there is also the land grant at (Kansas) State. So, it’s almost similar. Lawrence, Kansas is not exactly urban, but then I went to Boston University, which is private, but very, very urban. Its urbanness is what is similar to Pittsburgh; whereas the Midwestern feel and the publicness is what’s similar to Kansas. The size of all three are very similar. Kansas is about 27,000; BU is 33,000; what are we? 33,000, as well. So very similar.

Boston University and Kansas both have medical schools too. And those play an important role in the research collaborations, the way that they serve the local and global populations as well. But with Kansas, the medical school is all the way in Kansas City, only 40 miles, but 40 miles is pretty far. In Boston, it’s a mile away, which they think is as far as 40 miles. Here, we have it right at the same campus. The advantage of having everything in Oakland is tremendous. Being in a dynamic, wonderful city like this is just a great advantage to the university and really appealing to me to come back.

There’s been lots of turnover in the university in the last four years. Do you think that’s good, or is that something to worry about, in terms of losing the institutional memory?

I think it’s really important to maintain some institutional memory, and I think we have many people in roles, like my Executive Vice Provost Dave DeJong who’s been in his role for a number of years and really knows the place deeply.

But I also think the turnover renewal is great for any institution. And I think Pittsburgh was really ready for it. Mark Nordenberg was a fantastic chancellor, had a great long run. And then it was good to have a change, and he was ready to step down from that role.  We’ve brought in Pat Gallagher, who both has an institutional tie — like me — but has been in government.

And that’s a really great view — the view of the federal government that he brings as well as his connections to great people in the federal government. There are a number of top people that he has been able to recruit especially since the changeover of the administration in Washington.

We had a lot of very long-serving deans, and there’s been great renewal. I think Patty Beeson did an awesome job of bringing in really talented, energetic, new deans into many of the different schools and I’m excited to work with them.

Ann Cudd and Sharon Smith

What’s the timetable for replacing Sharon Smith, the outgoing president of Pitt–Greensburg?

We’ve already gotten some proposals from various search committees and search firms, and we’re searching through them. We’re going to start, probably next month, actually assembling the committee for that. I’m on day 20, and there are certain (shared) governance procedures that we need to make sure we go through.

We have a very experienced person with searches in this office: Laura Winters. … She has sought the proposals and is helping me to sort through those and will help me to follow the guidelines.

In fact, we had a search for a president last year (at Bradford). It didn’t end up succeeding in bringing one here. She’s already gone through that. We will also restart that in about November. …

For Greensburg: I’ll be assembling that committee (in October).

One of your stated goals included engaging with the city more. Do you have any specific ideas of how to do that?"

I think that the Community Engagement Centers that we’re starting up through Kathy Humphrey’s office ... I’m really looking forward to what they can do. … We’re starting with two. And I believe the chancellor has ambitions for several more and I hope that comes to fruition. So, we’ll be working on that. I think that’s a great start.

The dean of education has great ideas as well. I’m starting to think about additional financial aid scholarship ideas that might partner with the city. We’ve already got the first one, which is Pitt Public Scholars (for) all of the valedictorians and the salutatorians of the Pittsburgh Public Schools to have the opportunity

And that’s a wonderful thing to make sure that we bring some of the top talent from our home high schools. And then also, hopefully we get them to be great ambassadors for Pitt throughout the city and bring back to the city great education opportunities for starting businesses or continuing to graduate school. ... These are really ambitious kids and it was great to have a chance to meet them.

How do you think the perception of Pitt has changed since you were a grad student?

That’s a great question. So, let me preface this with the fact that I was a graduate student. So, I had a pretty narrow focus and a very clear purpose in mind. But my feeling was “What a great graduate and professional institution” and with a global reach.

I came here because the Pitt philosophy department at that time was ranked No. 2, and was just fantastic. I knew that this was the key to my future success. But, the Pittsburgh undergraduate program was not really a nationally prominent institution. And, in fact, the reputation of the institution as a whole, beyond philosophy and maybe medicine, was not well known.

I came here because the Pitt philosophy department at that time was ranked No. 2, and was just fantastic. I knew that this was the key to my future success.

Provost Ann E. Cudd, about attending Pitt in the 1980s

I remember a somewhat snobby Harvard grad saying, “Why would you go to Pittsburgh?” And I just looked at her said: “You don’t know anything about philosophy, do you?” … That was indicative to me that we really did not have the word out about the quality of the university, and I think that the quality has just gone up a lot.

The focus of the faculty on undergraduate teaching and preparation as well has really increased and improved since that time. And then when I was a professor at Kansas, a very good family friend, their daughter came to Pitt as an undergraduate and she was a top student in Kansas. Then I knew that we really had arrived, and indeed, she ended up being a Rhodes Scholar.

You’ve also talked about diversity in the faculty and staff. Is that something you’re focusing on?

I feel very strongly about that. I think that diversity is just incredibly important for higher education. First of all, because diverse groups are more innovative, more effective, excellence really depends on diversity. And secondly, because our students are going to be in a diverse world, in a globalized world where they’re going to meet people from all walks of life and all racial and national backgrounds, and they need to be able to communicate, cooperate, work together

And thirdly, it’s the right thing to do. It’s part of equal opportunity. It’s part of enhancing social mobility. Especially a public institution should be focused on that. So, I am deeply committed to diversity, but also then to inclusion because we want people to come here and feel they belong and to be valued and to be able to contribute at their highest level.

And I mean diversity on a number of different dimensions. Racial and ethnic diversity of course, but also international diversity. We have a relatively small number of students who are international students. Even out of state diversity, I think, is an important part of diversity. People who have different ideas and different backgrounds and perspectives to bring ... to bear on things.

Patrick Gallagher and Ann E. Cudd

What are some of the barriers you see to promoting diversity at Pitt?

I think that our cultural history in Pittsburgh is one difficulty — recruiting to a place that was of European background. But if you think about the people who have settled in Western Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh in particular ... in its time period was tremendously diverse. You had Lithuanians and Poles and Italians, and these people spoke different languages and so forth.

So, this city has a kind of history of diversity. But it’s a diversity that is now somewhat limited in scope compared to what we can be and what we need to be. (We have) an African-American community that’s fairly good-sized, but not a Hispanic community for example.

And then, of course, like all institutions, (Pitt has) a history of inequality, inopportunity going back. When I looked back at the first years that Pittsburgh had female graduates or African-American graduates, I was frankly pretty surprised. It was pretty recent. We’re talking 20th century. The Stein sisters, they were the first women graduates (in 1898). I can’t’ quote the date, but it was in the 1900s that the first African-American graduated. So that’s pretty late.

And that’s a context for the institution. But on the other hand, we have had 100 years now. So, there’s been time to catch up. And we’ve slowly been doing this.

Our undergraduate population … was very regional for a long, long time. And only fairly recently … did it become more national in scope in recruiting. And it’s only very recently tried to make any inroads in international recruiting. I believe the number is 4 percent of our undergraduate students are international. And that’s a fairly small number.

Graduate students — there’s more, and again, that reflects our institutional history of focusing, at a certain time at least, on the professional and graduate student population.

Then of course, there are the things that matter for everyone everywhere, (such as) implicit bias. We are used to seeing professors look a certain way. We’re comfortable with that. We tend to replicate ourselves until we say, wait a minute, let’s put some procedures in place so that our unconscious bias can be overridden by our conscious deliberation. About comparing CVs, for instance, without looking at the name and saying what are the accomplishments of this one and this one.

And it takes more time. But with that kind of conscious deliberation, you can override those issues. And training search committees to do that is really an important thing. And then there’s the fact that, and this has to do more with the faculty recruitment side than the students, but it takes a long time to change a faculty. Faculty often have 40-year careers. And so, you only get a few opportunities each year to hire new faculty and so it takes time.

But I am somewhat impatient. I want to make a difference in the next five to 10 years. I want to see this place really change in that regard. And I think that was also Patty Beeson’s thing. And she really started the ball rolling well. But I think we need to focus on why diversity is so important.

Those three points that I made are really important to keep reminding ourselves that we’re not doing this for some numbers or for some external press. Because this is important for excellence, for education and for doing the right thing.

Some of the regionals have done very well in recruiting underrepresented minorities, such as Bradford. But the other thing that the regionals really can do to help extend our mission is they serve rural populations. They serve lower-income populations. They have a higher number of Pell-eligible students. The idea of improving social mobility throughout society and certainly Western Pennsylvania that we serve first and foremost. They’re really carrying forward that mission when it comes to the populations of their regions.

There was a recent Supreme Court decision that race can be used as an indicator for admission to college ... but in a poll 73 percent didn’t agree with that. But that same percentage thought institutions should be more diverse. So how do you balance that?

If the public really understood the way that, at least Pittsburgh and many of the institutions that I know of that are trying to make a good faith effort in this way, are doing admissions, I think they would be much more understanding and sympathetic. So, we asked the question: what has this person really achieved and what can they achieve? We look at things like, where do they come from, what obstacles have they overcome in life and what is their grit and resilience, their willingness to try, their ambition.

You can find that people who have faced various kinds of struggles as part of an oppressed social group. They may have made tremendous achievements to get where they are and have a huge upside.

I think holistic admissions that are done trying to gauge a person’s grit and resilience and potential based on not only the conventional markers of achievement but also judging from where/what they’ve overcome is really important. And when you take those factors into account. That’s going to bring you a more diverse group.

When is the next report on gender equity coming out, and are you happy with gender pay equity right now at Pitt?

I haven’t delved deeply into that. I know there is some discussion of that. So, I think, that report … has to be looked at in a careful way. I’ve spent a lot of time in my career looking at wage inequality by gender and by race nationally. And I still have to do some work here.

But it seems like there is something of a correlation. I think the (ratio of women’s to men’s salary among all faculty) was actually 79 percent. It was very similar to national numbers. So what accounts for that? When you take it by job category, you find that ... it’s pretty close to equitable. And it’s when you look at women as a group vs. men as a group undifferentiated not by job category that you get the 79 percent.

Now I’m not satisfied with that. And I want to ask why are women in this job category and men in this job category? We do have to ask that question. But if we’re talking about equal pay for same work, that is not a significant problem right now.

What you’re talking about is unequal pay for different work. But why is there different work? I think that needs to be addressed. That is a societal issue. It is not a University of Pittsburgh issue alone.

But I’m the provost at the University of Pittsburgh. That’s what I can work on. So, I think the way that an educational institution can work on that is … offering an equal opportunity (institution) and encouraging women to go into those fields that are highly paid as well.

But of course, there are some fields that are not that highly paid. And those are really important and great kinds of work. And that’s a societal question: why are social workers and why are teachers, maybe even journalists, paid less than engineers and computer programmers? And there’s a lot to say about that.

Unionization is a big topic and will continue to be one ...

It’s really important that the faculty, and the graduate students, are fully informed and have all the facts and can make a good decision about that. You know, I think that the two groups are somewhat different in the sense that graduate students come here primarily to get a graduate education, and everything that we assign to them is aimed at being part of their development, their career development. Their education development.

Whereas with the faculty, it’s quite different. they’re clearly workers from the beginning but the question is that we have an incredibly extensive governance procedure: very different from say factory workers, the kind of work that we as professors do. It will be interesting to see how the arguments are laid out.

Provost Cudd was interviewed by University Times editor Susan Jones and writer Donovan Harrell.