Pitt dean retires after thirty years

Photo courtesy of Richard Howe

Richard Howe, associate dean of the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, spent his winter break packing up 45 years at Pitt of paperwork and memories from his office in the Cathedral of Learning.

For almost 30 of Howe’s 45 years at Pitt, he was the associate dean for administration in the School of Arts and Sciences, and in 2005 he also became associate dean for administration and planning. He announced his retirement in the University Times in December. Pat Cunningham, the executive director of financial and physical resources, will replace Howe, effective Thursday.

Howe spent the better part of his career improving the resources at Pitt for laboratory science and theater arts students. For the past 13 years, Howe helped fulfill the University’s master plan for facility improvements by modernizing the laboratories in Pitt’s 23 science buildings on campus, including installing windows in the labs in Clapp Hall so Pitt applicants can see students working firsthand on campus tours.

“You walk around campus now and see the new instructional labs and think what they had been like, it’s very gratifying,” Howe said.

Howe’s role as a leader in the scientific community has taken him well beyond Pitt’s labs, including to Chicago to host a conference and Washington D.C. to work with the National Institute of Standards and Technologyand back.

Among Howe’s involvement in a lengthy list of organizations, he serves on the organizing committee for the Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy. Pittcon is the world’s largest organization for laboratory science professionals and will hold its next conference in March in Atlanta.

He’s also the chairman of the Instruments and Artifacts Committee for the Chemical Heritage Foundation, an organization of scientists and engineers that collects and preserves historical artifacts.

“These two activities have enabled me to stay in contact with chemists from all over the world,” Howe said. “It’s a great networking activity not just for myself but for the students from the chemistry department who attend each year.”

In a “change of pace” for the science-oriented administrator, Howe said he’s also worked to bring theater groups like the Kuntu Repertory Theatre and the PICT Classic Theatre to Pitt to network with and teach Pitt’s actors.

Howe’s colleagues, like Graham Hatfull from the department of biological sciences, described him as a leader who could boil down complex conflicts into simple compromises.

“Dick always made us feel as though the issues, the problems, the concerns that we had here in bio sciences were essentially at the top of his priority list,” Hatfull said.

To show their appreciation, Hatfull and his colleagues brought a going-away present to Howe’s office Monday. The small entourage gave Howe a picture of a map of an isolated bacteriophage — a virus that infiltrates a bacteria — that they named the “Bacteriophage Howe” in honor of the retiring dean.

“Although we have a thousand or many thousand phages that have been isolated, it’s a rarity that we’ll give them an honorific name,” Hatfull said.

At age 70 and after almost 50 years of work in secondary education, Howe said he’s upset to leave but wants to spend time with his wife, children and grandchildren. He has no concrete plans to continue work with the University, he said, unless it needs him for a specific project.

Howe said he’ll have fond memories of Pitt’s commencement ceremonies. He’s been to every ceremony for the past 39 years, leading students and faculty on and off the floor.

“It really gave me a chance to acknowledge the accomplishments of our students,” Howe said. “[It brings] closure to why we work here, to support our students as they progress through the educational process.”

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