Q&A: Departing law and engineering deans


Dean Carter will be stepping down next year after six years of leading Pitt’s law school. (Photo via the University of Pittsburgh)

Two Pitt deans announced their resignations during the summer months, giving the University two positions to fill by the start of the 2018 academic year.

Gerald Holder — dean of the Swanson School of Engineering — announced his intent to return to the faculty in May, following two decades in the position. Law dean William Carter will also step down after this year, which will be his sixth leading the law school.

Pitt is in the process of assembling search committees for their replacements, according to Pitt spokesperson Anthony Moore. The committees will work throughout the fall and winter and will make final recommendations to Provost Patricia Beeson after interviewing potential candidates. Pitt will hold “listening sessions,” Moore said, where the University community can give input that will shape the job descriptions for the new deans.

“We hope to welcome two new Deans during the summer of 2018,” Moore said.

Ahead of their final years as deans, we asked Holder and Carter to reflect on their time as deans and look ahead to their new roles at the University.

The dean of the Swanson School of Engineering, Gerald Holder, will be returning to the faculty in May. (Photo via the University of Pittsburgh)

We spoke with Dean Gerald Holder in his office on Aug. 8. The following interview has been lightly edited for space and clarity.


The Pitt News: Looking back 20 years, what have been the biggest changes in the school and industry during your time in the engineering school.

Holder: I became dean in 1996 … I’ve been at Pitt for 38 years total as of last July. So I’ve been here a long time — lots of changes. We’ve seen big growth in enrollment and demand for engineers nationally is very large and demand for our students is very large. In order to meet that demand we’ve expanded the school dramatically, we have about 150 percent growth in students [since I started].

It’s been a good environment — it’s fun when everything is going well and your students are getting better.

TPN: You said you’ve been trying to manage the “chaotic” growth. How did you try to manage that while also improving the student experience?

Holder: I don’t even know if managing is the right word — building the student experience. We’re proud that students in the engineering school have given us high ratings, whatever measures you use. We’ve concentrated on that — we have counselors within the engineering school, we created a center for engineering education research. That center is focused on researching how engineers learn, what are the processes they go through to become better educated as engineers.

We’ve worked hard by trying to improve our advising to students, to make sure they understand what they’re doing by coming to get an engineering degree.

TPN: What are some changes that have happened at other schools in Pitt that are different than what happened at the school of engineering?

Holder: The cultures in different disciplines are different. Engineering culture — a fact-based discipline where you’re building something. You can’t build a building that’s going to fall down because you left something out. As opposed to the more liberal interpretations of literature or something — where you can have different interpretations, and that’s great and fine and stuff like that.

Compared to say law or medicine or arts and sciences, we’re different and our culture is different because of the nature of the discipline.

TPN: What advice would you give to the next dean in terms of adapting to some of those things?

Holder: Trust the faculty and students — they have the best interests of the school at heart. Be supportive of the students — don’t undersell them in terms of your expectations but also recognize that the students are just out of childhood.

The next dean will choose for themselves, in consultation with the provost, what they want to do. They might follow the path we’ve been on and continue to grow the school and add more students. They could decide they want to maintain where we’re add and get some sort of equilibrium existence here because we’ve been sort of chaotic with all the growth and everything.

I’m sure the new dean with have their own agenda with everything they want to accomplish. Look at the values they have and what they think they can do for the Swanson School.

TPN: Are you going to go back to teaching?

Holder: I’ll be dean for another year, then I’ll go on sabbatical to prepare. It’s still kind of uncertain but I expect to go back on the faculty to teach.

I’m looking forward to it, that’s why I became a professor — I was interested in teaching students.


William Carter answered questions by email ahead of his final year as dean of Pitt Law. His responses have been edited down for space.

The Pitt News: What do you think will be your most lasting impact on the law school?

Carter: That’s a very interesting question and one that is somewhat hard to answer, because I believe that the success of any institution is a collective effort.

Although I certainly don’t attribute it to my efforts alone, I think that the substantial improvements in our graduates’ employment rates; the significant increases in faculty and student body diversity; the hiring of many new dynamic faculty members, [and] the significant increases in alumni giving and engagement are among some of our most noteworthy achievements in the past few years.

TPN: What was your role in the creation of the Cyber Institute? What was the thinking behind creating such a institute and you do you envision it growing as cyber law becomes more important?

Carter: The vision and impetus for the Cyber Institute came from our Chancellor, Provost, and David Hickton, but I have been delighted to play somewhat of a role in bringing the Institute to fruition through participating in early discussions about the scope and mission of the Institute … and continuing to strategize … about building a truly inter-disciplinary Institute … to address the many growing opportunities and challenges in the cyber realm.

TPN: Apart from the high profile changes — new institutes, rankings, etc — what behind the scene things did you to improve/chance Pitt Law?

Carter: There are many “behind the scenes” efforts by the faculty, staff, students, alumni, and the administration that contribute to the success of the Law School. Among some such efforts over the past few years are the hiring and retention of a truly excellent faculty and staff (who often go overlooked in their contributions to the school’s success) … the establishment of a new Student Professional Development Fund that provides financial support for our students’ job searches, networking efforts, and career development; and significantly increased engagement of our alumni with our students’ career, professional, and academic development.

One particular set of persons whose “behind the scenes” efforts that I want to recognize, and who have been absolutely essential to our progress, are our student leaders, who have devoted enormous time to assisting their peers and the Law School.

TPN: Are you excited to return to teaching full time? Was the student interaction something you missed as a dean?

Carter: I am incredibly excited to return to full-time teaching. Although I knew intellectually that I would miss full-time teaching while serving as Dean, and although I have in fact continued to teach one course every year while serving as Dean, I have been surprised by exactly how much I have missed being a full-time teacher. Teaching is the first thing I ever wanted to do and it is ultimately my calling. Although I have greatly enjoyed the privilege of serving as Dean and I hope that I have done a good job in that role, I very much look forward to getting back to my first love, which is teaching.