Obituary: John R. 'Jack' McCartan / Key figure in cultivating growth at Robert Morris University

Oct. 7, 1934 - April 12, 2014

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Throughout his career, John R. "Jack" McCartan was the president of two schools, the vice president of another, and held key roles at five other institutions. Mr. McCartan had a vision of accessible, career-focused post-secondary education, and he spent his life implementing that vision at schools across the eastern half of the country.

Mr. McCartan died Saturday from lymphoma. He was 79.

The son of an accounting firm owner, Mr. McCartan was born in Mt. Lebanon. His father bought the Robert Morris School in 1948, when the school was Downtown and focused on accounting. He graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1956, and his father brought him on as vice president of the Robert Morris School, now known as Robert Morris University.

Jonathan Potts, public relations director for Robert Morris, said that at a time when other business schools were marketing themselves to working adults, Mr. McCartan hired several IBM typewriter salesmen to promote Robert Morris to high school students, leading to rapid increases in enrollment.

"Jack recognized that the real demand for the education we were providing was going to be among recent high school graduates," Mr. Potts said.

As vice president of Robert Morris, Mr. McCartan pushed to move the school to expand its programs and locations. Under his leadership, Robert Morris purchased the Rust Engineering Building at Sixth and Forbes avenues, Downtown, as well as the Oliver Kaufmann estate in Moon, which would become Robert Morris' main campus.

"A lot of the things that have happened in the past 20 years [at Robert Morris] really can be traced back to Jack McCartan," Mr. Potts said.

The McCartan family ended its association with Robert Morris in 1965, and Mr. McCartan went on to serve as a director or board chairman at numerous schools. He even spent nine years as president of the other Robert Morris University -- the one in Chicago.

In 1990, Mr. McCartan became the president of Pittsburgh Technical Institute.

"When he acquired PTI, it was a very small, basically one-program type of program," said Eileen Steffan, the institute's vice president. "In a relatively short period of time he grew the school, added programs, we became regionally accredited, and we received approval to grant academic degrees, so that within 10 years we became a regionally accredited, academic degree-granting college."

Ms. Steffan said Mr. McCartan promoted an open-door policy at PTI, so much so that administrative offices at the campus literally do not have any doors.

She said that his approach allowed students -- regardless of their backgrounds -- to feel good about their accomplishments.

"The culture he created gives students an opportunity to experience success," Ms. Steffan said.

"Physically, he was a big bear of a guy," said Jay Carson, senior vice president for institutional advancement at Robert Morris. "He looked like he was a football player. And though he had a no-nonsense, business demeanor, it wasn't missed on me for a second that he really had a soft space in his heart for a lot of people who didn't have that much."

Mr. McCartan is survived by his wife, Margaret Stefan McCartan, and his sister, Patricia Snyder.

Services were held Wednesday. McCabe Brotthers Funeral Home in Shadyside handled arrangements.


Brett Sholtis: bsholtis@post-gazette.com and 412-263-1581.

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