GSPIA’s first female professor Altenburger focused on ethics

Christine Altenburger, the first female professor in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, died on April 26, 2019 at 91.

Kevin Kearns — once Altenburger’s student and later her colleague — recalls her focus on ethics and best practices in municipal governments, helping to refine their structure and management. “She was absolutely outstanding,” both as a classroom teacher and working with local governments on the ground.

“She was very, very organized, very focused on practical skills that could be applied to government,” he said. “There were a whole generation of students who benefited from her engagement, including most of the municipal managers in the region. She was instrumental in writing various state municipal codes and procedures as well.”

Altenburger joined the GSPIA faculty in 1962 and retired as professor emerita in 1989. She was associate dean when Kearns arrived at the school in 1978 and held a variety of posts there throughout her career, including co-leading the Institute for Local Government, which provided technical assistance to local municipalities.

She also provided a tremendous amount of uncompensated consultation in the community, he said: “She was constructive, she was helpful, she was focused on the mission, and she was a very important force in my life and the lives of many others. She was really unselfish. It was her life and she gave it her all.”

That same attitude was evident in her classroom, Kearns said: “No class was routine for her … and I’ve tried to follow that example myself. She gave me some of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard from anyone: ‘The day you’re no longer nervous when you walk into the classroom is the day you should retire.’ ”

Living most of her life in Penn Hills (where she later was elected to a term on its municipal council), Altenburger served in the Women’s Army Corps after earning her undergraduate degree from Penn State. She worked in military intelligence and was stationed in Germany and at the Pentagon.

Altenburger is survived by her niece Gail, nephew Denis and great-niece Carley .

Memorial gifts are suggested to the Christine Altenburger Endowment, University of Pittsburgh, 128 N. Craig St., Pittsburgh, PA 15260, or via