Patrick Gallagher named Pitt’s 18th chancellor


Patrick Gallagher is Pitt’s next chancellor and a jokester, too. 

Gallagher jumped in the back of a photo opportunity of Kathy Humphrey, vice provost and dean of students, and two students yesterday during a special Dean’s Hour that allowed students the chance to meet Gallagher. 

Gallagher might have accepted serious responsibilities as Pitt’s next chancellor, but has not let the power make him seem unapproachable. He cracked jokes and posed with a giant cutout of Jamie Dixon at a Pitt basketball game.

Pitt’s Board of Trustees elected Gallagher as the University’s 18th chancellor and chief executive officer during a special Board meeting last Saturday morning. Gallagher is the acting deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce and the director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

While very few students attended the Board of Trustee’s meeting, students in the Oakland Zoo, Pitt basketball’s student section, went wild after Gallagher was introduced as the next chancellor before Saturday afternoon’s Pitt men’s basketball game against Virginia Tech in the Petersen Events Center. 

Students and staff met with Gallagher in a more intimate setting during the Dean’s Hour at Nordy’s Place in the William Pitt Union on Sunday, concluding a weekend that Gallagher described as a “giant group hug from all of Pitt and Pittsburgh.” 

Various student groups on campus such as Pitt Pathfinders, the Blue and Gold society, Student Government Board and athletics teams attended Dean’s Hour to greet Pitt’s newest chief executive. Students were also given the opportunity to have their picture taken with Gallagher.

Audrey Ann Blakely, a freshman majoring in computer science and physics and astronomy and member of Pitt’s tennis team, attended the Dean’s Hour and said she hoped Gallagher will be “as accessible as he seems to be so far.”

Brandon Benjamin, an SGB Board member, said he hopes Gallagher will be passionate about education and social justice.

Gallagher’s appointment is the end result of a six-month search by the Board of Trustees to fill the position of Chancellor Mark Nordenberg, who announced last June he would be stepping down after 19 years as Pitt’s chancellor. 

The Board assembled a 26-member search committee and hired Storbeck & Pimentel Associates, an executive search firm, to find Pitt’s next leader.

Stephen Tritch, chairman of the Board, said Gallagher was the evident choice in a worldwide candidate pool. 

Gallagher secretly visited campus twice during this period to meet the Board of Trustees, key leaders and constituent groups before the Board publicly made its decision Saturday morning in the Assembly Room of William Pitt Union.

Establishing an Agenda

When he returns to campus Aug. 1 as chancellor instead of chancellor-elect, Gallagher said his first two areas of focus will be strengthening Pitt’s partnerships and engaging students.

Gallagher said he will work to build upon previously established partnerships with University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Carnegie Mellon University, private businesses, Pittsburgh’s city government, the state government and the federal government. 

“What I hope I really bring is a capacity to collaborate and build those bridges. A university doesn’t sit by itself. It is entwined and embedded in the community,” Gallagher said.

Subra Suresh, president of CMU, said he is excited about the possibilities ahead for the two universities and is delighted that Gallagher will become Pitt’s next chancellor.

Suresh and Gallagher have worked together previously and partnered to launch several initiatives while they served as heads of federal agencies.

Suresh previously served as the director of the National Science Foundation from 2010 until his appointment to president of CMU in 2013.

Gallagher said his positions in government and the NIST were centered on working with federal agencies and will help him to collaborate. 

“It’s been in my DNA,” Gallagher said. 

The NIST, which Gallagher has worked for since 1993, and Pitt already have a healthy relationship.

Pitt received a $15 million grant in January 2010 from the NIST, when Gallagher was its head, to help fund renovations for laboratories in Pitt’s Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Gallagher said he was not sure how his new position would affect future connections between Pitt and the NIST, but like in other areas, Gallagher said he will work to develop a closer bond between the two.

Expanding student interest

Nordenberg and Tritch also noted Gallagher, who completed his Ph.D in physics at Pitt in 1991, has a strong commitment to science and research. 

However, Gallagher said he is still passionate about the humanities.

“I’m a liberal arts guy at heart,” Gallagher said. 

Citing personal experience, Gallagher said he did not know what a physicist did when he began studying physics and philosophy as an undergraduate student at Benedictine College, a liberal arts college located in Kansas.

Gallagher said it is good to focus on science and technology, but not at the expense of other areas of study. 

STEM — science, technology, math and engineering — majors have been in the spotlight at Pitt recently with the establishment of the Discipline-Based Science Education Research Center.

The center was established to give students a place to work hands-on instead of just reading from texts, which Gallagher said he believes is the best way to encourage students to retain STEM material.

Gallagher said the University must give students a “glimpse of the possibilities” for what they could do with these majors.

Gallagher said Pitt must give students compelling experiences that will open up doors and added that this applies to all majors, Pitt athletics, arts and other facets of campus.

Pitt currently claims the unsavory title as the most expensive public school in the United States, a fact that Tritch said is the result of funding cuts from the state. 

Gallagher pointed out that he is “tuition-paying parent” and said he will work with the Board of Trustees to tackle tuition. 

“What you really want to ensure is the affordability of the college doesn’t affect access and education,” Gallagher said.

Gallagher said he was open with the search committee regarding the fact that he does not have traditional experience in fundraising. 

“I mean, the federal government doesn’t fundraise unless you call that taxes,” Gallagher joked.

However, Gallagher added that people give money to feel like part of something and said he can use his experience in developing relationships to raise money for Pitt. 

Tritch also noted that Gallagher had to convince congress to fund the NIST, which received hundreds of millions of dollars each year during Gallagher’s tenure..

Gallagher said he wants to focus on building a personal relationship with the student body. 

He recognizes that he is a new face on campus and promises to go to “where the people are,” rather than having the people come to him.

“When I am walking on the street, I hope people will stop me and want to talk to me,” Gallagher said.

Pittsburgh Roots

Gallagher might be a new face to students, but he is a familiar sight to Pitt and the city.

His mother grew up in Pittsburgh, and Gallagher attended second grade at a Pittsburgh elementary school while living with his grandparents. 

Gallagher returned to Pittsburgh as a graduate student at Pitt and met his wife, Karen, in Pittsburgh.

After Gallagher completed his Ph.D in physics at Pitt in 1991, the couple moved to Boston so Gallagher could accept a position as a research associate at Boston University.

“It was hard leaving Pittsburgh,” Karen Gallagher said. “I cried my eyes out when I first saw that [Boston] apartment.”

Gallagher returned to Pittsburgh in April 2012 to serve as the commencement speaker at graduation, and the University awarded him an honorary Doctor of Public Service degree.

Gallagher’s youngest son, Ryan, 16, accompanied his parents throughout the weekend. Ryan Gallagher said he attended his first Pitt basketball game and received an informal campus tour by a group of students. 

“I thought [Pitt] would be intimidating because it’s urban, but I was surprised. It was more spaced out than I thought it would be,” Ryan Gallagher said.

Pitt has high hopes for the elder Gallagher, who will pick up the reins after the end of Nordenberg’s successful and long commitment to the University. 

Yet, according to Ryan, Pitt has no reason to worry because his father will make a great chancellor.

“He’s always had the businessman mode. He just kind of goes for things and knows his stuff. He is good with people,” Ryan Gallagher said.

Gallagher told the packed room of students during Dean’s Hour to call him out if they ever feel he is ignoring their interests.

He urged students to come to him with their requests and not let him make them feel marginalized. 

In exchange, Gallagher has a request of his own.

“All I ask is that you don’t call me ‘Gally.’ You got to come up with a better nickname,” Gallagher joked, referencing longtime Nordenberg’s nickname, “Nordy.”