‘It doesn’t feel like my last year:’ Gallagher talks monkeypox, large class sizes and more


Pamela Smith | Visual Editor

Chancellor Patrick Gallagher during an interview in April in the Cathedral of Learning.

By Colm Slevin, Assistant News Editor

As Chancellor Patrick Gallagher prepares to step down from his role this summer, he remarked that leading a major University during a pandemic has not been easy.

“It was a challenge,” Gallagher said. “But, I would say what was interesting about COVID, it was something that none of us had sort of experienced at that scale and when it’s a global pandemic, nobody was spared the effects of COVID.”

Gallagher spoke to The Pitt News for 20 minutes last Wednesday about his final year as chancellor, monkeypox on campus, Pitt’s partnership with Carlow University for overflow student housing and more. Gallagher announced in April that he will leave his post this summer after nine years on the job. 

Gallagher said his final year hasn’t felt much different from a normal school year, since he still has a myriad of responsibilities. 

“It’s the slowest two-week notice,” Gallagher said. “But, the side effect of that is it doesn’t feel like my last year. We have all kinds of things happening at the University, nothing really kind of waits for the transition to sort of happen.”

These responsibilities include planning for the larger class sizes. Gallagher said Pitt had 50% more applications compared to last year — which also set a record. The University also partnered with Carlow to house about 130 first-year students due to enrollment numbers and housing demand.

Along with large enrollment numbers, Gallagher said Pitt’s seen a lot of growth due to de-densifying during the COVID-19 pandemic and adding isolation housing. He added that this growth requires flexibility in dining and hiring additional staff as well. 

“If you’re going to grow, you want to do it very thoughtfully, you want students to have a great educational experience here,” he said. “That means we have to have the faculty and we want to have the classrooms… and you also need all the infrastructure to support a large class.” 

Gallagher said while he hopes that application rates return to their historical levels, college admissions are changing. 

“The trick really is how do you [expand] with all of the rapid changes and uncertainties that are happening in the world of college admissions, so that’s the short term plan,” Gallagher said. “The longer range plan — and of course, my successor will play a much bigger role — is finding the right size. Maybe there is a case to be made for growth if that demand is there.”

In terms of his goals once he leaves, Gallagher said he wants to leave his successor with as much momentum as possible and finish projects that he started, such as the new budget model and BioForge, rather than beginning new projects. 

“I think a lot of great things are happening. You don’t want to just stop everything and tread water,” Gallagher said. “You actually want to think of it like a relay race. You run hard to the end and then you pass the baton.”

While Gallagher said he’s noticing how taxing the COVID-19 pandemic has been for everyone, he feels the campus is returning a new normal. However, Gallagher said monkeypox requires that the University come up with another set of rules since the disease is so different from COVID-19. Pitt reported the first student monkeypox case last month.

“A lot of monkeypox is very different from COVID. So part of our strategy is not to just pull out the COVID playbook,” Gallagher said. “We can’t assume we know how to handle this, you know, it’s a different disease. It’s transmitted differently, the risks are different — both health risks and transmission risks. The good news is there’s a lot that can be done medically.”