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Duquesne University inaugurates Ken Gormley as new president

Natasha Lindstrom
| Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016, 8:27 p.m.

Ken Gormley kicked off his official start as president of Duquesne University with good news for his employees: They're all getting a 2 percent raise.

“Everyone in this university is working hard collaboratively to better serve our students each day, and so I believe it's important to reward that excellence,” Gormley announced to more than 2,000 faculty, alumni, staff, students, dignitaries and other supporters during a formal inauguration ceremony at Duquesne's A.J. Palumbo Center in Uptown.

Gormley, 61, took the helm Thursday as the 13th president of Duquesne University, a private Catholic college with about 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The native Pittsburgher and nationally recognized expert in constitutional law — the ceremony included the reading of a glowing letter from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito Jr. — said he intends to use his “lifelong connections” to thrust the institution into the national spotlight.

“I'd like to push Duquesne out onto a bigger stage, both locally and nationally,” Gormley told the audience, through strengthened partnerships with the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, finding more effective ways to engage students and intensifying fundraising efforts to add facilities and resources.

“Our secret weapon is our alumni donors,” he added.

Dozens of local, state and national dignitaries as well as university stakeholders spoke in support of Gormley, including Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Pittsburgh Roman Catholic Bishop David Zubik and Lt. Gov. Mike Stack.

“With his new responsibilities,” said David Wilkins, Gormley's longtime associate and Harvard Law School professor, “he is destined to become a central figure in the world of higher education generally, at a time when universities desperately need the kind of subtle intelligence, openness of mind” and perseverance Gormley demonstrates.

He grew up in Edgewood and Swissvale and served as mayor of Forest Hills from 1998 to 2001. He recalled several out-of-state job offers after graduating from Harvard Law School in 1980, but he decided to stay in Pittsburgh.

“I've always wanted to make a contribution right here in the community where I grew up,” he said.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Christine Donohue said Gormley's appoinment spurred “excitement from the legal community.”

She said she and her colleagues “consult and rely on a regular basis” Gormley's work on Pennsylvania constitutional law.

Gormley ascends into the university's top position after working at Duquesne for 22 years, including as dean of its law school from 2010 through December 2015.

“That's actually a really great thing to see a leader come up through the faculty ranks,” said Tryan McMicken, director and assistant professor of the higher education program at Suffolk University in Boston. “It's still considered like it's a prized posession in academia from the faculty perspective.”

Last year, Gormley faced a short-lived public controversy after Gov. Tom Wolf nominated him to fill one of two state Supreme Court vacancies. Someone anonymously leaked an internal university document about a complaint filed by a female professor against Gormley and another professor in 2006, which the university called unsubstantiated. The report was part of a lawsuit filed against Gormley that was settled privately in 2010.

Co-nominee Thomas Kistler withdrew from consideration amid outrage over a racially insensitive email Kistler had sent. Senate Republicans refused to hold more hearings, and Gormley's nomination stalled.

Gormley succeeds Charles J. Dougherty, who retired June 30 after a 15-year tenure.

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at nlindstrom@tribweb.com.

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