Budget acumen, collaboration cited in Arts & Sciences dean search forums


The search committee for a new dean of the Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences and College of General Studies held separate forums last week with faculty, staff, students and the Pitt community to get input on what to look for in the next dean.

“I’ve been struck by the enthusiasm of Dietrich School and CGS constituents when they speak about the future of the school, and about the ways they think the next dean can help mold that future,” said Joseph McCarthy, search committee chair and vice provost for undergraduate studies. “There was great discussion about how to maintain the school’s areas of historic excellence while developing a shared vision that aligns with the current environment.”

Dietrich School Dean Kathleen Blee announced in June that she would be stepping down next year and returning to the faculty. She has been dean since 2017.

After collecting input from the Pitt community, the 12-member search committee, who were mostly selected through voting, will spend December and January collecting “as robust a pool possible,” McCarthy said. A community survey is still open on the provost’s website for anyone to submit comments. Anyone with suggestions of candidates also can email McCarthy at Joe.mccarthy@pitt.edu.

The committee, which is working with a search firm, hopes to do pre-screening interviews in early February and then have three to four finalists come to campus for “vision talks” right after spring break. The plan is to have a new dean in place by next summer.

McCarthy said there are some internal candidates, but the committee doesn’t want to narrow its focus and will be looking for the “best person we can get.”

At the four forums, McCarthy said participants talked about finding someone who:

  • Is deeply committed to student success.

  • Can help retain the outstanding faculty and staff who are core to the school’s excellence.

  • Will lead collaboratively and with transparency.

  • Will support the continuation of the positive culture of the schools.

  • Can also leverage the University’s new budget model as an asset. 

“The diversity of academic inquiry across the school is enormous, but there is a strong sense that the next dean will be successful if they can continue to embrace innovative policies and practices that keep the entire school moving forward together,”  McCarthy said.

At the open forum on Nov. 10, a few people mentioned the new budget model as both a challenge and an opportunity for an incoming dean.

John Stoner, a teaching professor of history, said he wouldn’t lead with the challenges of the new budget model as a selling point for the job. “It’s been represented to us as a thing that a lot of other institutions do, but it’s clearly had sort of seismic ripples at Pitt in terms of uncertainty and exactly what that’s going to look like.”

At the department level, there’s uncertainty what the new model, which puts more control in the hands of each school, is going to mean for faculty and hiring and whether it will actually give schools more autonomy.

Brandi McClain, graduate administrator in the Department of Astronomy and Physics, said the budget model is in place now, but the administration hasn’t caught up to what it entails. McCarthy said they would definitely be looking for someone with budget acumen.

Annette Vee, an associate professor of English, said the new dean needs to “recognize the interconnectedness of all our faculty and staff and all the people that make this school work.” She noted that “very huge differences in salary across ranks creates friction among people who need to be working together.” She said a new dean needs to recognize that Pittsburgh has changed in the past 10 years and that salaries, especially for staff and teaching faculty, have not kept pace with those changes.

One student, who identified herself as a senior communications major, said students don’t feel connected to the dean’s office. She said the Dietrich School needs a dean “who has a mindset, of not just, ‘Where can we trim the fat and how can we build a budget,’ but like, ‘Where can we expand? And where can we work to make new programs or majors or minors that are serving the career aspirations of students after they leave university.’”

Other issues raised at the forum:

  • Retention of staff and teaching faculty, along with job creep when the work of those who left is pushed onto others.

  • The ability to work with a collective bargaining group, because “from a faculty perspective, that’s the reality that we’re going to be in moving forward,” McCarthy said.

  • How to properly manage the work from home era, but still give flexibility.

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at suejones@pitt.edu or 724-244-4042.


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