Pitt hosts first forum in chancellor search

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Given a chance to opine on ways the University of Pittsburgh can secure a strong new leader, one speaker stepping to a microphone on campus Wednesday said Pitt ought to simply "clone the current chancellor."

That option, of course, is not available -- at least not literally.

Nevertheless, several speakers at the first of a series of chancellor search forums said they would like to see many of the same attributes displayed by Mark Nordenberg, whose successful tenure will have spanned nearly two decades when he leaves office next August.

About two dozen people showed up in the William Pitt Union for a 3 p.m. session that ended an hour early and left many of the 200 seats empty. Those involved with the search said they did not expect to fill every seat and predicted attendance would vary widely depending on when the sessions are held.

Another main campus forum is set for 9 a.m. Friday, and for the rest of September and in early October, other sessions hosted by the search committee will take place both in Oakland and at Pitt branch campuses in Bradford, Greensburg, Johnstown and Titusville. Forums for alumni also are being held nationally this month and in early October.

The forums are part of a complex and high-stakes process to identify the individual best suited to lead the 33,000-student university into its next era.

The attributes described as necessary by those who spoke Wednesday ranged from humility and deftness at managing complexities of an elite research institution to an understanding of the public's sharpened expectations and skepticism about higher education.

"It's going to be increasingly important in the next decade that the university administration understand that challenge coming from the public," said Cindy Tananis, an associate professor of education.

John Wilds, an assistant vice chancellor for community relations, spoke of the university's tradition of civic engagement and said the next leader must understand that "this university sits in a residential neighborhood and that it obviously has an impact on that community."

"There has to be a really positive relationship between the university and the community," he said.

A speaker from the medical school said the next leader must understand that shifts in resources over time other than just state funding levels can affect how a school supports itself. She noted the medical school's reliance on research income and income from medical care, sources now less certain.

Carlino Giampolo, who lobbied Pitt trustees unsuccessfully to add a representative of Oakland to the 26-member search committee, said he tried to speak at Wednesday's forum but was told only faculty, staff, students and alumni could speak. Mr. Giampolo, founder of South Oakland Urban Litter, an anti-litter group, has cited concerns ranging from Pitt expansion to effects of student binge drinking on the neighborhood.

Pitt said the search committee is diverse and that the public has opportunities to give input through means including the school's website. "Pitt places a strong emphasis on community consultation and University representatives meet on a regular basis with Oakland community groups regarding community and individual residents' concerns," Pitt spokesman Ken Service said in a statement.

education - neigh_city

Bill Schackner: bschackner@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1977 or on Twitter @BschacknerPG.


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