By SHANNON O. WELLS
To Alex Labrinidis, professor in the Department of Computer Science, asking what makes Pitt appealing to a potential chancellor candidate is the proverbial softball question.
“The No. 1 thing, obviously, is the city,” he says. “You know, I don’t need to say more. That’s one of the things that attracted me 20 years ago, and I haven’t left.”
While Pittsburgh’s well-known transformation from steelmaking center to “eds and meds” mecca makes a great hook, he finds there’s much substance behind the hype.
“In reality, (Pitt is) a very comprehensive university. We have a very strong medical school. We have very strong other fields,” he says. “There are a lot more opportunities that can materialize here with such a big breadth of research areas of educational programs and so forth.”
Labrinidis was among several faculty members who shared their thoughts on the Pitt chancellor search in a forum immediately following the Oct. 13 Senate Council meeting at Posvar Hall. The forum, one of a series started on Oct. 3, was headed up by Eva Tansky Blum, search committee chair and former Board of Trustees chair; Anantha Shekhar, senior vice chancellor for health sciences; and Geovette Washington, Pitt’s legal officer.
Blum, who chaired the committee that brought Patrick Gallagher to campus in 2014, explained how the committee again chose Pennsylvania-based Storbeck Search to find Gallagher’s replacement, planned for spring 2023.
“We thought that was a really good match for us,” she said. “They understand us, they know our DNA, they know Pittsburgh, so we chose them again.”
Since the search committee members were chosen in mid-September, it’s been full steam ahead, with group members gathering input and sharing criteria with various constituent groups across campus.
John Maier, assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine, said Pitt’s welcoming appeal is evident in Gallagher’s plan to teach in the Department of Physics and former chancellor Mark Nordenberg’s current position as chair of Pitt’s Institute of Politics.
“They retire into the faculty and are still around,” he observed. “So I think a new chancellor who comes into this environment will benefit from something like 30 years of institutional wisdom of senior leaders who have been around before.”
Tom Songer, assistant professor of epidemiology in the School of Public Health, called “strength of various different disciplines that are part of this University” the “No. 1 important issue” Pitt has to offer, which opens opportunities for creating more multidisciplinary research, teaching and community engagement. “We can build this into a much bigger operation than it is right now. And we will have top-notch quality people to be involved with.”
Other points of attraction at Pitt cited at the forum included:
The “quite good” relationship between Pittsburgh and the University.
The ability in Pitt’s medicine and sciences departments to “cut across disciplines” and work with other colleagues.
Opportunities for Pitt to partner and provide a source for “creative research” with federal agencies like the departments of Defense, Energy, Homeland Security and Intelligence community.
Pitt’s shared governance structure that provides a voice for faculty and staff members and direct lines of communication among each other and the chancellor’s office.
Challenges the next chancellor will likely have to grapple with that were shared include:
Possible reductions in grant money and the ability to support healthcare science faculty at traditional levels.
A projected diminished number of undergraduate student applicants.
Finding faculty in certain areas, such as qualified teachers for medical school training.
The ability for Pitt and other universities to “reinvent themselves” in an online world with an encroachment of artificial intelligence and other novel technologies.
Among the skills and experience those at the forum expressed as important for the new chancellor include:
Passion- and motivation-fueled communications skills that inspire “buy in” from others in sharing a vision or comprehensive plan.
The ability to set up appropriate structures to connect the different educational “silos” that exist on campus. “It’s not ideal to break down the silos (of knowledge and expertise), but instead you can connect the silos together,” Labrinidis said. “I think bringing someone who can connect the different silos that exist without completely breaking them up, I think would be a very good skill to have.”
Agility in working with lawmakers and adapting to changes in fundraising sources and the overall fundraising landscape.
Long-term vision and foresight in creating science, technology, engineering development plans and projects.
To conclude the forum, search committee co-chair Anantha Shekhar praised those who took part, observing that Pitt’s quality standards and nurturing community go a long way toward attracting talented leadership candidates.
“Ultimately, the biggest attraction for anyone who wants to be chancellor is all of you,” he said. “I mean, that’s the reason they want to come here, not just to get the title. So I think the faculty quality, the staff quality, the student quality, the training programs here (are) ultimately what they're going to come for.
“So we appreciate all of your participation and look forward to you helping us get the best person.”
Shannon O. Wells is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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