Chancellor forum receives varied opinions from students, alumni

Chancellor forum receives varied opinions from students, alumni

By Danielle Fox / Staff Writer

Academia aside, audience members at last night’s chancellor search forum said they are looking for a chancellor who understands the importance of athletics, even if he or she doesn’t understand the rules of a ball game.

“As an integral part of the university, [athletics] is probably the best PR tool we have,” alumnus Joseph Barack said. “It also serves as a bridge to the rest of the city, which is a largely untapped potential.”

Approximately 50 people attended the chancellor search forum, including students involved with organizations such as the Student Government Board, the Rainbow Alliance and the Black Action Society. Members of Pitt’s staff and faculty were also present, as were alumni. Attendees discussed their views on the qualities that the replacement for Chancellor Mark Nordenberg, who plans to retire next July, should have.

This was the final search committee forum held on Pitt’s main campus. 

Each of the first two forums, which were held Sept. 18 and Sept. 20, drew 20 people, none of whom were Pitt students.  

Forums have also been held at Pitt’s Johnstown, Titusville and Greensburg campuses. Another is scheduled for Wednesday at the Bradford campus. The search committee has also hosted forums in cities including Atlanta, Houston and Philadelphia. Another forum is scheduled to take place in San Francisco on Friday.

Brandon Benjamin, president of the Rainbow Alliance, said he hopes the next chancellor will be open to educating himself or herself to social concerns and issues affecting students. He said he wanted to see a chancellor more in line with the direction the University’s student body, which he considers liberal, is traveling.

“[Rainbow Alliance is] a very active group at a relatively conservative university in a liberal city in a conservative state in a liberal country in a conservative world,” Benjamin said. “It’s something that we are trying to navigate. … We have to address a lot of different issues that come up in a very conservative way.”

Kevin Kearns, a professor at Pitt’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, said he considered increasing diversity to be one of the most important missions of the next chancellor.

Two members of the Black Action Society who were at the meeting, including president Chandel Boozer, voiced their agreement with Kearns.

In addition to the panel, search committee members Amelia Brause (who is also a member of SGB) and Richard Colwell (who served on the search committee that chose Chancellor Nordenberg) were present in the audience. 

Alumna Susan Heiss worked at the University while she was obtaining her two degrees from Pitt. Heiss, who graduated in 2009, said the new chancellor must make him or herself available and approachable to the all of the student body.

Heiss recounted a story to the panel in which she was waiting on a street corner on Fifth Avenue. Nordenberg stood beside Heiss and a group of students, waiting for the light to turn.

“No one else seemed to know who he was. He was just a guy in a suit,” she said.

She said that she wanted to see a chancellor who could connect with more students.

“I would like a chancellor who, when standing on the street corner, can turn to the person next to him and say, ‘Are you on your way to lunch?’ [or] ‘What class did you just leave?’” she said.