Home > PUM ONE ON ONE – PATRICK GALLAGHER - 18th Chancellor and Chief Executive Officer of the University of Pittsburgh Conversation about Diversity, Education and setting an agenda at Pitt

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PUM ONE ON ONE – PATRICK D. GALLAGHER - 18th Chancellor and Chief Executive Officer of the University of Pittsburgh

A Conversation about Diversity, Education and Setting an Agenda at Pitt in his own words..

PittsburghUrbanMedia.com catches up with Patrick Gallagher, PhD, who is the 18th Chancellor and Chief Executive Officer of the University of Pittsburgh. He succeeded Mark A. Nordenberg, who stepped down as Chancellor on August 1, 2014, after leading Pitt for 19 years.

Chancellor Gallagher received a bachelor’s degree in physics and philosophy from Benedictine College, and he earned a PhD in physics at Pitt in 1991. (Click here for additional Biographical information) 

On December 4, 2014, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher writes an open letter to the Pitt community about the recent police killings of Black men in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island, NY.

  “Dear Pitt community, I am writing to you at this busy end-of-semester, pre-holiday season to reflect on the recent news from Ferguson, Missouri last week and from Staten Island, New York yesterday. These two events are clearly profound personal tragedies for the families and friends of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. But like the earlier case of Trayvon Martin two years ago, these cases collectively are galvanizing powerful reactions of anger and outrage across the country because they indicate that for too many, especially those in our African American communities, the American promise of “equal protection under the law” is not being realized…”

 Click here to read the entire message.







(Pictured left: PUM Editor and Founder Robin Beckham, Dr. Gallagher and Janice Brown)  


PUM:  Going back to that message that you sent out to the Pitt community, what did you want to convey in terms of the protests taking place on campus and in Oakland, what are your thoughts on how you used your leadership role to unite on tough issues?

Dr. Gallagher:  For me this happened in the context of a broader discussion, we were having around the diversity in the university.  The diversity discussion is an interesting one too, because it can be a numerical discussion, in terms of enhancing and growing diversity and Pitt certainly is less diverse than many universities, that’s a future issue that’s growing the university and becoming more diverse. The question was now how do you become more inclusive, how do you become a place that can embrace as a core value the importance of diversity. My feeling was it was an existential discussion because a university thrives on being innovative and creative and if you look at where that always happens, it’s not within a homogeneous block its always at the seams right, it's where whether its multidisciplinary things or multicultural things and so a university thrives on this potent mix of openness and acceptance and an ability to tackle the tough issues of the day in that open way, right, it should be a place that is safe to do that, if we can’t do it here then we are really in trouble. When we started having these police, justice issues happening, with both the Ferguson case and in Stanton Island it was really important I think to say something about it not just because it was crossing the country but because it also was part of the discussion we were having on this campus.

Students are not staying here forever and have an insulated experience; they are here to learn and go out and make a difference in the world.  So the fact that the world is encroaching on that experience, here in the middle of finals week, they are saying that in the papers and on the news that something is touching this country in a way that is profound, they want to be part of that and I think it was really important for me as the representative of the institution to validate that and particularly validate the way I thought that they were doing it, they were being very peaceful, they wanted to be a part of this as you heard they even want to go beyond awareness raising and how do we engage how do we work with the community, how do I leverage what I am studying to make a difference and I just thought it was very important to make a statement about that so I don’t know if there is any kind of recipe for how do you leverage your leadership, but one of the things that I think you do when you are leading an organization is you represent an organization an institution and I think at times it’s important to give that institution a voice. Even a place that says diverse and bottoms up as a university where there’s many, many, many voices, sometimes it’s important to say what the broader organization stands for.


PUM:  You have said publicly that there is a need to increase diversity at Pitt, what does that mean?

Dr. Gallagher: For me it was a couple of things, one was a value statement that a diverse organization is one that believes in the power and value of diversity. It is something that you live. It’s something that affects behavior. For me a value is something that affects behavior, and it sort of compels you to act even when it’s difficult. So a big part of the diversity discussion for me was inclusiveness in the culture of the university in attitudes in making a place that’s attractive to be where you want to be where you seek different ideas and part of it is increasing the diversity of the university in terms of we don’t look like the rest of the United States here, in terms of our numbers, whether its Latino, whether it's Asian, whether its African-American, we look a lot like western Pennsylvania demographically which isn’t a surprise, but this is a region where several big waves of immigration have bypassed us, you know where there has not been big Latino influxes like you see in other parts of the county, or Asian populations and so I saw that in faculty numbers, I see that in the students. One of the questions is why?  We are a very desirable university to come to work, we are drawing more and more on a national level, shouldn’t we be starting to see the same demographic changes that everyone else is seeing and it was important to start raising that question and start asking why is that the case. Are we too comfortable just recruiting locally and from within? How do you become a university that’s now starting to go from being a great regional university and now really starting to look at it as a great national university or even an international university rather increasingly selective how do you leverage that in some ways to promote recruiting from other parts of the country and enhance diversity and backgrounds?

PUM: How are you going to do that?

Dr. Gallagher:  Well, part of it is a relationship business, never underestimate the power of your alumni and the experience that people have here that was what was so interesting for me in talking with the students because they are really passionate about Pitt and they love it here. That positive experience they are having here is one of the best things that can happen, and certainly they do a lot of work recruiting others. The other part of it though is there is a lumpiness to how a university recruits, in other works if I ask our recruiting office to give me the numbers of where students are coming from, you will see a number of high schools a lot of them are local, where a very large fraction of the class ends up coming to Pitt, and so there’s also reputations within certain schools that this is a great school to go to and that word passes around and where apparently the university has a stronger relationship that it does just generally with high schools in general I think in these days that more than just guidance counselor relationships.

So one of the things you can do is expand your network of high schools that you interact with as well and start forming relationships with schools at an earlier phase, I don’t think just as high schools can’t wait, you know until the very end of when students are matriculating and start worrying about what happens with them, I think universities can’t wait until they are applying to worry about where they are coming from, I think reaching back and forming strategic relationships with schools so students are potentially maybe even getting an experience with either online schools or classes or visits or things of that type, there’s a lot we can do to deepen our relationship with even perspective students and try to build those ties that seem to matter.

PUM: You’ve been on the job since August 1, 2014, how is it going and what are you seeing and hearing on campus?

What difference are you committed to making right now?

Dr. Gallagher:  Well, I came in not wanting to have a plan in my hip pocket, I felt it was important to start by listening to the organization that I joined and there were a couple of reasons for that. One is universities really are driven by the faculty and students; it doesn’t mean that the chancellor and top leadership don’t matter but it means that it’s very much a leadership as a service model. In other words, my job is to find ways to set the conditions where a great faculty can thrive and where great students can come and do amazing things.

So if you are going to play a role there the first thing you have to do is listen to what the faculty are seeing as a core issues and what the students are being driven by and so I really wanted to come in listening and that’s where I’ve really been spending most of my time it’s obviously a big and dynamic place, so I’ve told everyone I’m drinking from the fire hose, but the water taste good.

But there are some things that jump up as themes that have come up often and early, a lot of these resonate with discussions that are happening at the national level. The issue of how your higher education experience affects employment, right because of the cost of education, because of the fact that our recession was so job destroying, the 2008-2009 recession, has put the employment side of higher education and giving it great emphasis much more than I think in the past and that’s both a benefit and a risk. The benefit is that it opens up an opportunity for a university to become much more participatory in the employment discussion, you know we are not an Ivory Tower anymore, and I know as a student, I don’t think I knew exactly what I wanted to do and so part of what you are doing while you are at a university is discovering yourself, you're discovering your abilities you are being exposed to new ideas, new possibilities and you’re trying things on for size and your trying to decide what ignites your passion and your interest and uses your talents, and a lot of that has great relevance to careers and I think we can’t be passive observers in that process I think we have to be very active and one part of that is interacting very strongly with the business community, so we’ve have been talking a lot about making the university a much better partner with the business community.

PUM: With your background why was being a chancellor something you wanted to do? Is it what you thought it would be so far?

Gallagher:  I certainly didn’t’ start my career when I was at Pitt thinking 23 years ago, thinking I’m going to come back as chancellor so my career certainly evolved in unexpected ways, I actually started out wanting to be a teacher, I taught high school for a year and came here thinking I wanted to teach at a college level that’s why I was pursing a PhD and then I found out I really liked research and I was doing research for a while and then I found out I liked major research facility operations and management, and I moved  into management. What I ended up learning over that period of time was that the jobs were all satisfying in many ways because they draw on your talents and they call on you to do certain things, but the thing that was so powerful was leveraging what you could do to make a difference. In the government role what I was really most drawn to was this notion of public service, making society better, enabling people to live better lives, it sounds corny to people not in the government, but it’s really what keeps people there. I use to tell people you know NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology was an amazing place we have had three NIST employees, federal employees who won the Noble prize in physics, no other agency has had that before it was remarkable, what was really remarkable was all three stayed there, despite being offered multi-million dollar offers to go somewhere else and build buildings in their names and to do various things, when I would talk to them and ask them why they stayed it was the combination of great and fascinating work, they loved their work, its engaging its intellectually stimulating and it was service to the country, it was work that would make a difference and that resonated with me and that is the way my career felt and so when I heard about the opening at the university I knew that my career at the government would be ending at some point, as a political appointee that is one of the consequences, this struck me as a way to make a difference to because the one thing I learned in the government and it may be the most fundamental mission of all, if you are going to make people’s lives better it always kept coming back to education, that was the platform that as individuals, as a society as a community, we were dependent on and so for a mission guy like me that really hit home, that this was one of the most important missions there was.

PUM: Does it concern you that there is what some believe a great divide in terms of education for those who have access to especially when it comes to higher education? 

Dr. Gallagher: I think it’s one of the biggest issues facing our country at a time when these economies of today are knowledge driven economies, it’s all going to be able work and employment and your ability to participate and education has never been more important than it is today and you see that the economic disparity between those who have gone to have a higher education and those who don’t –it’s never been larger. But at the same time, we have never had such a large fraction of our population with higher education degrees so it’s not as automatic as it used to be either. If you are a part of a small fraction of the population that had a bachelor’s degree or higher, your pathway into certain types of jobs was more clear because you were more of an exception, now when a large fraction of the population has these degrees, that sort of automatic ticket aspect of it is no longer there and yet the value has never been any greater and I think that’s what’s  driving a lot of this national discussion it’s both, it’s not a clear ticket to a particular job like it used to be and yet it’s very important and so helping students understand what this educational experience and this diploma means I think is something that the university has to own part of that effort.

But I think as a country, there’s probably no greater issue than are we going to leave whole parts of our population out of this economy that we are creating if people can’t participate in this the consequences to our society are profound and I’m very disturbed by watching the decline of the middle class and economic disparity between those who have and those who don’t and the larger yeah, I think  it’s very important and I don’t think it necessarily means that everybody has a bachelor’s degree and this that and the other, one of the interesting parts of the discussion is what constitutes advanced education can include advanced skills, there’s multi pathways to a knowledge based economy, this is not simply a world that belongs only to the PhD’s, it can’t,  but it is one that is knowledge driven and if we don’t give students from pre-k- to their lives access to this, we may be dooming them to stand on the sideline and not be able to participate in this type of society and I think that’s just not acceptable.  

PUM:  What are some of your top goals of what you have on your agenda?

Gallagher: Let’s say there are three things that I have been sort of focused on one is to set an agenda. The university does tend to be bottoms up driven, and we do have very large mission, goals, excellence in education, excellence in research, and service. As you look at the educational landscape today and ask what head winds are we going to be seeing as an institution, the cost of education, new technology changes in education policy, international competition, if you add all those into the mix, what are the set of things at Pitt that we should be focused on over the next two or three years, to really make a difference. In other works there are some things that the entire university needs to join forces on to work to make a difference, and that has to be a small list of things if you are going to move the needle if everything is a priority then nothing is a priority so we have actually started on a strategic planning effort across the university right now we started with our board of trustees but we have been talking with students with faculty, administrators the business community in Pittsburgh, and I’m excited about that because that will give us a nice road map of things we can do collectively.

PUM: How do you balance being a father of three boys what makes you feel proud now where you are in your position?

Dr. Gallagher: Balancing that’s always been hard, I mean I think every working parent struggles with that balance and I’m in an interesting point in my life because the three boys, two are in college, so I don’t see them very much anyway, so they’re making that transition from boys to young men and their own independence and my role with them is changing which is really exciting and sometimes sad.

PUM: Do you see yourself as a leader that is inspiring future generations?

Dr. Gallagher: I don’t know, you have to have to ask the generations…


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