Big man on campus: Settled in, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher sets his sights higher than the Cathedral

Back to Article
Back to Article

Big man on campus: Settled in, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher sets his sights higher than the Cathedral

By Dale Shoemaker / News Editor

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.

Email This Story

After one year of leading from the Cathedral of Learning’s corner office, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher is a man who still speaks with the same measured optimism as he did on his first day last August.

Now, he has a sense of what the University’s community can accomplish. He knows what he wants to do for Pitt and  — almost — how he’s going to do it.

“I feel like I know enough now. It’s not just drinking from a fire hose,” he said in a 40-minute interview. “Now, maybe I know enough to be dangerous and we can start doing some things.”

The Pitt community warmly welcomed parts of Gallagher’s plan, including his call to eliminate sexual assault at Pitt and his decision to appoint diversity and inclusion officials.

But the first year wasn’t just a honeymoon.

On April 16, for example, sociology professor Jackie Smith, political science professor Michael Goodhart and 75 other professors signed a cautionary letter to Gallagher warning of the dangers that could come with commercializing research.

In July, professors like Peter Trachtenberg in the English department questioned some of Gallagher’s high-profile administrative hires, while more than 60 percent of Pitt’s faculty are adjunct or part-time. In addition, several LGBT students, including Marcus Robinson, president of Pitt’s Rainbow Alliance, have pointed out the lack of gender-neutral bathrooms on campus.

In an interview with The Pitt News on July 24, Gallagher addressed those issues and more, inviting students to see what’s ahead.

The Pitt News: Since you’ve been here to visit your grandparents and when you were here for graduate school, what’s the biggest change you’ve noticed in Pittsburgh?

Patrick Gallagher: On the tangible side, there’s a lot of new development. Downtown is almost unrecognizable from when I was here. But the more exciting part for me, when I was here as a student, Pittsburgh was feeling down and out. We had just seen the failure of the steel industry — we had these empty, nonfunctioning steel sites around the city. And now you see a city on the cusp of being one of the most exciting cities in the country. You can feel it in the attitudes.

TPN: What would you say was the definition of this first year for you?

PG: Well I think for me, reconnecting with the University was really what my first year was all about. It really was a freshman year in that sense. It was about engagement, it was about digging in, it was about getting a sense of all the great things that are happening, trying to get a feel for where I can make a difference.

TPN: In what ways would you say you’ve reconnected?

PG: Well a lot of it is people. This is a people business and relationship, it’s connecting with students and faculty and with administrators, business leaders and Harrisburg and our political stakeholders.

TPN: After your first year, you’ve gotten a chance to refine your vision for Pitt. You’ve talked a little about reconnecting and some of the successes we’ve had, what you would say are the two or three biggest challenges you’ve identified this year?

PG: Let’s see if I can figure out a way to explain this. The world of higher education is facing a lot of change right now, whether it’s cost, whether it’s technology. And in my view, the correct response to that is to double down on the stuff that we’re really good at, which is a type of experience-based learning. What happens, though, is that happens in a thousand different places and ways, so the challenge is, ‘how do you assemble those things and create the conditions where we make the maximum use out of that experience?’ And it seems to me the answer to that is to put students first — we talk a lot about the idea of almost personalized education even though we’re in an institutional setting.

TPN: So the challenge is that higher education as a whole is moving in one direction and you’re trying to push it in another direction?

PG: No, I think that the debate on higher education, when you sift through it, tends to be in the public press about issues of cost and affordability and access and technology disruption. But what all of those things are doing is pushing on the issue of ‘what is the value of higher education?’

TPN: So the challenge is trying to find that balance between us being the most expensive public university in the country and having students feel like that’s worth it?

PG: Well it has to be more than just worth it. And the reason we hit that ranking…has more to do with the fact that our state has eroded how much support they provide. It could be really cheap to go here. But what if that degree doesn’t do you any good? What if that experience doesn’t help you grow, it doesn’t help you find and live a life of impact? And so you really can’t address this on just cost, you have to address this on value. So you fight on cost, you make it as efficient as possible, but you also have to look at is this an education that matters, that lets you harness your talents and is something you can build your life on.

TPN: Do you have any plans to shake our title?

PG: I think the more fundamental question is the affordability of the education. The right way to to tackle that is the direction we appear to be headed in. The governor has signaled an intention to restore funding — that’s a huge step. That would take all the state-related universities off that list.

TPN: Let’s say best-case scenario, Gov. Wolf gets his ideal budget passed and we get a lot more money back from the state. Would we potentially see a drop in tuition in the next couple of years?

PG: Well we’ll have to see how that goes. Obviously, I’d love to see the public sector pick up more responsibility for the tuition. The state this year hasn’t even passed their budget, we’ve been able to put in what will be a historically low increase for us. Now, that’s not the same as reversing a trend, but it’s a step in the right direction. I don’t think you can budget cut yourself off that list. Then you really start impacting the value of what is so special about Pitt.

TPN: Tying with this whole issue of money and your vision, you had that [open letter from professors Smith and Goodhart] and letter back in February about the push to commercialize some of Pitt’s research and make connections with local companies. But not everyone in the University community has been as excited about that —  76 faculty members signed that open letter. I’m curious to hear why you think they opposed that?

PG: Well actually, I read their letter a little differently than just opposing. I took it as a cautionary note, and I would say I share their caution. A university is not a business, that is true, and that was one of the points they made. And the reason the University should, in my view, commercialize, or have the capacity to commercialize some of its work, is to avoid making money and not turning a profit. It’s one of the way knowledge is made impactful. One way research knowledge is turned into something with impact is it becomes a new product or service. So the University should be able to work with that for-profit world and make sure that that happens So the point of that letter that was really important is, OK, they were saying two messages, but that’s not the only way to create impact, and I totally agree. My argument was that we should have the ability to do it in our toolbox, not that it’s the only tool. And the other thing they were saying was ‘be careful, we’re not a company, don’t lose the fact that we’re a University and our primary mission is to teach and advance the frontiers of knowledge.’ And again, I couldn’t agree more. In my view, the ability to partner is not Pitt becoming a company, but Pitt becoming mature enough that we know how to work with companies without forgetting who we are.

TPN: One thing professors Smith and Goodhart said in the letter was that commodifying knowledge kind of misses the entire point of knowledge and research and teaching. Do you disagree with that?

PG: No, but I would point out that, look, knowledge is a public good, so in that sense they’re right. But it is also true at a certain point, if you’re going to turn certain types of knowledge into something useful, you have to monetize it. That’s what intellectual property rights are all about. It’s as old as this country, it’s in our Constitution that somebody can protect their idea so that they can fund it, build it and do something about it without it being taken. I take [their letter] as a warning that if you are only seeking to commoditize and sell your knowledge, you’re going to miss the boat. But that’s not what we’re here for. But on the other hand, if you don’t allow for some knowledge to get to a point where it can basically be turned into something useful through this innovation process, then you’re also missing the boat.

TPN: So what would you say to their concerns that professors or researchers are going to be skewed by the fact they could maybe make a profit off of their research? It raises the ethical questions that research could be skewed and they might not pursue certain avenues of research. because they have a feeling it’s not going to be profitable.

PG: These were issues that were raised very early, back in the 1980s in the Bayh-Dole Act, one of the key pieces of legislation sought to give universities the capacity to own intellectual property and their inventions. And one of the concerns was that this was going to utterly distort scholarship, that we were going to be motivated by profit considerations…I’m not saying the University should turn all of its attention to commercializing, I’ve never said that, it’s not true. We’re leaving this up to the faculty. If they think the way to maximum impact of their work is through commercialization, we should have a tool that allows them to do that.

TPN: Moving away from commercialization, another part of your vision for this year, in another letter you sent out in the winter semester, was about reducing sexual assault on campus. You said that sexual assault has no place here at Pitt. Why do you think this is still happening today?

PG: I don’t know. I don’t think this is a case of new behavior just showing up. What’s probably happening is that as a country, as a culture, as a place that is looking at the environment that all of our students are put in, we’re kind of waking up to the realization that we’re not creating an environment where people can feel safe in all circumstances, and there are a number of things that contribute to that. There’s party culture, drugs, alcohol, youth and freedom, and everyone talks about all of these issues, but the bottom line is, if you’re afraid of being sexually assaulted or experiencing sexual assault and retaliation, or what have you, we have utterly failed to create the exact environment that is so important to a University, which is an environment where you can take risks where you can be open, where there’s an open exchange of ideas where you can grow as a person and you’re not afraid of harm. This, in my mind, this sexual assault issue, cuts to the core of what we are and I think the reason we’re seeing it is the fact that we’re focused on it. Now that’s always just the first step. You can’t get better unless you’re honest with yourself, and so we’re at a stage where we’re doing surveys and we’re trying to understand, but the most important thing is we have to take that awareness and turn it into a desire to mobilize. Because you don’t change a culture through a program or training alone, or through a better compliance system, you do it with all of the above. It’s about changing hearts and minds and about really addressing behaviors. And that’s going to take everyone — it’s going to take students, it’s going to take faculty, it’s going to take administrators and it’s even going to take the community.

TPN: What do you think Pitt needs to teach its men?

PG: And women, I think it’s both, and I think a lot of this has to do with understanding what’s considered issues like consent and permission in these circumstances. It’s not just about taking responsibility for your own behavior and taking responsibility, but your responsibility to your classmates and the fact that this is really a cultural issue, it’s not just an individual issue. It’s a collective issues. We all have the responsibility to look out for somebody, so bystander training and other things matter. I think it has to do with understanding things that can put us at increased risk and not putting ourselves in circumstances where we’re going to be at a much higher risk for these kinds of things to happen. It’s a matter of addressing and having a compliance system that does effectively deal with allegations and takes corrective action and makes sure someone is taking advantage of the situation. I think it’s all of the above, and it’s not just the men. I think the evidence is quite clear, it happens the other way too. This is about our civil rights, this is about respecting each other, this is about what does it mean between two individuals to give consent about how involved they want to be in a sexual situation and not force themselves on someone in a violent way.

TPN: Do you have a plan in place to address all of these things, like bystander intervention?

PG: We do. And it’s a plan now and it’s a plan that’s going to keep getting better. One of the reasons we created the position for [diversity coordinator] Pam Connelly is to provide a sort of focal point across the university. But again, [interim dean of students] Kenyon Bonner is developing programs and content for freshman coming in and returning students. We have programs for faculty and staff, there’s new mandatory training for them. Everyone has responsibilities in these circumstances, whether it’s sort of emergency responsibilities under an allegation or an incident or whether it’s ongoing responsibilities in terms of awareness and sensitivity and keeping our eye open and looking at our own behavior. So that’s the way we’re trying to address it is across the board.

TPN: Going along with Pam Connelly’s role as a diversity coordinator on campus, there are some students here, especially in the LGBT community, who don’t always feel safe or included because we don’t have a lot of gender neutral bathrooms and there’s not an option on official University forms to have a non-binary option. I’m wondering you have any other plans in the works to make our campus more LGBT friendly.

PG: We’ve been installing gender neutral bathrooms at a very high rate — we have maps on our website that indicate where they’re at. We’re addressing and expanding our gender-neutral housing options. We’re doing things to increase awareness. We’re trying to provide services, for example, in our health services unit, that are responsive to concerns raised by that community. We’ve been looking at faculty awareness — we’re trying to actually work very hard in this area, and I think, again, this is not something you can address overnight but I think we’re moving in the right direction. We’re trying to hopefully see that environment much better. As a matter of fact, we just issued fresh guidance on questions about bathroom use, consistent with the latest government. People should use bathrooms according to their gender identity and use good judgement and try to remove some of the ambiguity and the lack of clarity that was around those policies. We’re actually doing a lot in this area.

TPN: Also in this same vein of diversity, we’ve talked to Pam Connelly and Kathy Humphrey pretty extensively about diversity at Pitt, but I’m curious to hear how you define diversity. When you hear the words diversity and Pitt in the same sentence, what does that mean?

PG: I think in the end it means what you think it means, which is that a University has to be a place that embraces everyone — and in some sense reflects the world it is a part of. And so for me, diversity is, I tend to think of it as a value. It has to be baked into our attitudes and our approach and the way we act, even when that’s hard. So it’s about affecting the way we’re inclusive to cultures and ethnicities and people that are different than us, it’s about the way we recruit nationally, and embrace the full diversity of this country — do we hire that way? I never take that as a narrow [Equal Employment Opportunity]-type definition…We seek to be a magnet for this region. We should be attracting the best and brightest from around the world.

TPN: So do you have a goal? Do you want to do an X, Y and Z here at Pitt as far as diversity goes to get us to points A, B and C?

PG: I think we’re developing that right now, I mean, what’s underway now is to take the broader goal of what does it mean to be diverse — the question you asked — and turn that into near term specific actions that we can take.

TPN: Such as?

PG: Well they’re under development now, so I don’t want to handicap what they’re going to come up with, but it will certainly involve things we can do to promote inclusiveness. That’s probably going to touch things that we do in our recruiting and hiring practices, it’s probably going to affect things we do in our business interactions, who we contract with, it’s probably going to affect things we do in our student recruiting. So it’s probably going to touch a whole bunch of areas.

TPN: I’ve been talking to some professors leading up to this interview, and some of them, specifically in our English Department, are wondering how you’ve hired several high profile administrators who are making pretty significant salaries where we still have a lot of our professors are adjuncts who are not really making that much.

PG: Well first of all, while there has been hiring, almost all of it is planned hiring in the sense that I’ve had tremendous turnover in my office, so I’ve created some new positions, but I’ve also eliminated some positions, so I think in terms of headcount, it’s basically flat. The other part of it, is no one person’s salary in the Chancellor’s office can offset salary discrepancy in a pool as large as adjunct faculty or assistant professors. I understand the emotional reaction to doing that, but the truth of the matter is, they’re just on a different scale. It’s very important to me that the life blood of the University is people. We’ve been working with the faculty senate on non-tenure stream faculty. While Pitt has done a good job in that area, we have clearly identified areas where we need to do better. I think you tackle that on its own merits, rather than by comparisons.

TPN: Adjuncts in other places like Point Park University

and cities like Philadelphia are starting to unionize. What are your thoughts on adjunct and faculty unions on the university level?

PG: I mean, that’s a decision the faculty make on their own. What tends to happen in some cases, those pushes to unionization happen because those groups feel their core interest isn’t being reflected in what the administration is doing and what I certainly hope is that’s not the case here. Unions are always free, in this country we’re allowed to do that, but if it’s being done because they don’t feel like they’re being listened to, that would be a concern to me because we certainly try to do everything we can.

Leave a comment.