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Hail to the chief (of staff): Kathy Humphrey, vice chancellor and chief of staff, talks her new job and her vision for Pitt

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Hail to the chief (of staff): Kathy Humphrey, vice chancellor and chief of staff, talks her new job and her vision for Pitt

By Dale Shoemaker / Assistant News Editor

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Kathy Humphrey has moved on — and moved up. 

Until January of this year, Humphrey was Pitt’s vice provost and dean of students. Chancellor Patrick Gallagher promoted her not long after winter break to senior vice chancellor and chief of staff. The Pitt News sat down with her and Ken Service, vice chancellor of communications, to speak about her new job, her vision for Pitt and who is going to permanently fill her shoes as dean of students. 

The Pitt News: So, Dr. Humphrey, Pitt students want to know: What is Kathy short for? Is it Cathedral?

Kathy Humphrey: (Laughs) That’s just the name my mom gave me. She didn’t give me any more name. I thought about changing my name to Katherine once, but I decided that it would just be wrong. That was the name she gave me. That takes her rights away. People are always saying, ‘What’s the rest of your name? What’s your legal name?’ That is it. I just happen to work in a Cathy, too. 

TPN: So you’re now the former dean of students. What do you miss most about your old job?

KH: I miss many things about my old job. I guess the constant interaction with students, I really miss that. My goal is to still interact with students, so I never forget why I’m coming to work each day. 

TPN: You said you now have the opportunity to work on greater things. What are you working on right now?

KH: I just think about last week — I had the privilege of meeting with some donors. I knew it was important for us to say ‘thank you’ to our donors, but to be the person who sits across from them and really say ‘thank you’ and see how they respond, to show our appreciation, is an amazing experience. Last week, I worked on an alumni engagement project. We’re really committed to making sure the value of your experience as an alumnus is heightened. That’s something I’m working on right now. How do I make sure that after you graduate, you still feel very connected to Pitt, that we’re still investing in you and giving you opportunities to invest in our new students? How do I get past sending a letter saying, ‘Hey, give us some money?’ On the other hand, I want you to want to give and reinvest in your institution. I’m working on developing that so it’s even stronger.

TPN: So, besides alumni relations, do you have any other special projects? Anything long-term?

KH: Everything is long-term. We’re in a strategic planning session right now. We provide an incredible academic experience, we’re leaders in the community, we connect to the community and the region and the world, we’re developing global citizens, we value diversity. All of those things will continue to stay the same, but what we’re going to do to make those soar is really what the strategic plan is going to be about.

Another area I work with is the governmental relations. We have to determine how we become great partners with our legislators. My hope is that we move from this place where we’re always concerned about them cutting us, to a place where we’re really seen as a crucial component of what our legislators do. [It’s important] that we become good partners, that we’re not just continually begging from them, but indeed we’re saying, ‘State, city, how do we make you stronger so you can help us be strong?’ 

TPN: Correct me if I’m wrong, but is the UPMC, CMU and Pitt collaboration all a part of this bigger picture as well? (Humphrey nods.) They said at the unveiling of that partnership [which was announced March 16]that some of their goals were to create for-profit businesses as a result of the collaboration and the research, so I’m curious as to where this money is going to be going. If these projects are successful and you’re able to hook up with corporations and governments, is any of this money going to come back to Pitt, and if so, where’s it going to go? 

KH: Well, naturally, if you make an investment, you’re going to hope that some of it comes back, but it’s bigger than the money. The money is important. The investment you make, you’re hoping that investment comes back and develops even more research and even more opportunities, or drives the economy. We’re a non-profit, which means everything that we generate, we put back into a system to help it continue to grow even more. 

TPN: Okay, so a better way I could have phrased that: After this money comes in and it’s reinvested, how are students going to benefit? Are students going to see the results of these efforts in any way?

KH: Well, let me take that from another avenue to give you as clean a picture as I can about that. Anything we have eventually is going to touch the life of a student in some way. If it means we could improve a research lab because we were able to create a new revenue stream, if we are able to provide more scholarship dollars because we were able to find a new revenue stream, you name it — at the end of the day, it’s going to touch a student in some way. It has to. It’s not this dollar goes here, this dollar goes there, it’s how is it going to affect the whole? How does that reinvestment make everything we do stronger and better? 

TPN: So, switching gears now, Kenyon Bonner [former director of Student Life]is filling your old position right now. So how do you think he’s done so far?

KH: I think he’s doing great. He’s had some difficult things to happen, in two months, he’s had some really hard things. When a student dies, it’s hard on the student body. [Editor’s note: George Daly, a  chemistry and molecular biology major, passed away on Feb. 12 and Anita Valsa Thachet, an information science major, passed away on March 12] It’s hard on those who work with him and know him and to be able to help the students during that time, just managing the everyday of student affairs. If it wasn’t being managed well, everyone on this campus would know it. It’s a very visible operation. If Student Affairs is going wrong, nobody will have to tell you — you’ll know. I think he’s doing a really good job. 

TPN: (To Ken Service) I know I’ve been harassing you with a lot of emails about the dean search, but (to Kathy Humphrey) are you able to speak to prospects for candidates, anything about the search?

KH: I’m not involved with that, that’s Patty Beeson [provost and senior vice chancellor]. Really and truthfully, I shouldn’t be involved with that. So you gotta talk to those folks. 

TPN: I’ve been hearing rumors that Kenyon Bonner might step up and fill the position full-time. Are either of you able to speak to that? 

Service: Provost Beeson has said there’s a cycle to hiring these kinds of positions, so she’s looking toward the fall semester to really actively pursue that. There have been no decisions made yet. 

KH: You have to fall in one of those hiring streams.

TPN: What’s the next step for you? Do you see yourself retiring from this position, or are we going to see Chancellor Humphrey in the future? 

KH: At this time in my life, it’s interesting to think about. If I’m very honest with you, I never thought about being in this job, it was never part of my forecast. Did I think I was going to do other things? Absolutely, but I never really thought I was going to do this job … So I don’t know. I’m not that young to be thinking about many more careers, but my take on life at this juncture is to do a job until I feel I’ve like I’ve really exhausted it, until I’ve done everything I can possibly do in that position. I don’t see that anywhere in sight for this. There is so much to be done. 

TPN: Do you feel like you exhausted your role as dean of students? 

KH: I think I had an amazing run. To be honest, if I think about anything, I think about the very end of my career. My husband and I talk about this all the time. He and I say, when we get ready to retire, we’re going to be hall directors (laughs) because it was one of my favorite jobs and after I’ve done all I think I can do, to be able to just be able to be a part of a small group of students’ lives, I think that’ll still be very important to me. 


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Hail to the chief (of staff): Kathy Humphrey, vice chancellor and chief of staff, talks her new job and her vision for Pitt