University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Nordenberg to retire in August 2014

| Friday, June 28, 2013, 11:54 a.m.

He started at the University of Pittsburgh as a nine-month contract employee teaching law.

On Friday, 36 years later, Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg announced that he will retire in August 2014 after 19 years leading the school.

Nordenberg, 64, proudly ticked off a list of Pitt's accomplishments under his leadership as he addressed trustees at the University Club.

“It's a better university. You ought to be able to find a better chancellor,” said Nordenberg, who received a standing ovation.

He said enrollment climbed from 27,002 to 32,781 and the average SAT score rose 185 points during his time as chancellor. Annual applications for admission to the university's main branch climbed from 7,825 to 27,626. Its medical school distinguished itself as a national research center.

“His leadership really moved the University of Pittsburgh into a position as a pre-eminent university in this country,” said D. Michael Fisher, a U.S. Court of Appeals judge and longtime Pitt trustee.

Jeffrey Romoff, president and CEO of UPMC, praised Nordenberg's partnership with the hospital network, saying his “unwavering commitment to excellence and community” helped move research breakthroughs from the lab to patient care.

Nordenberg started at Pitt in 1977 when he was hired as a visiting contract instructor at the law school. He later became the dean of the law school, then served as interim provost and senior vice chancellor before trustees elected him interim chancellor in 1995 and named him chancellor the following year.

“I came as a not-very-sought-after member of the faculty and now someone was asking me to take the highest position in the university,” an emotional Nordenberg said.

Over the years, he delved into civic life and led a regional advisory committee in 2006 to improve the efficiency of government services in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.

“Mark's affable and unpretentious personality served the university in a unique manner by fostering cooperation and avoiding discord,” said Bob Cranmer of Brentwood, a former Allegheny County commissioner who became a friend of Nordenberg's.

But Nordenberg's tenure hasn't been without bumps.

As state subsidies, which covered 18.3 percent of Pitt's budget in 1995-96, plummeted to less than 7 percent last year, annual tuition soared nearly threefold, to $15,730. Those numbers rocketed Pitt, along with Penn State, to the top of surveys naming the priciest public universities in the nation and brought state pressure to slow increases.

At the same time, Pitt began re-evaluating programs. Last year it suspended admissions to graduate programs in German, religion and the classics to cut costs.

Nordenberg said one of his most trying times was last year when Pitt was plagued by bomb threats as students prepared for final exams. He recalled being frustrated about entering the Peterson Events Center in the middle of the night and seeing it full of students who had been evacuated from their dorms.

Carlino Giampolo, a community activist in Oakland and longtime Pitt critic, won't be sorry to see Nordenberg go.

Giampolo said the university's lack of transparency and exemption from most of Pennsylvania's Right-to-Know laws make it difficult for neighbors to get answers to their concerns about university activities that affect them.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, a Pitt trustee, said Nordenberg's retirement will be a loss for the region.

“With this announcement, it is truly the end of an era with two pillars of our community having made the decision to step down. Both Mark and (Carnegie Mellon University President) Jared Cohon have led their institutions and this region with pride and dedication, and they have moved us forward through their collaboration and cooperation. We have much to learn from them,” Fitzgerald said.

Cohon will retire on Sunday after 16 years leading CMU. His successor, former National Science Foundation Director Subra Suresh, will take over on Monday.

Cohon, who forged a strong partnership with Nordenberg, said their cooperation yielded many joint research centers and educational programs as Pitt's research efforts gained national attention.

“It all happened under Mark's watch. His leadership was a key ingredient to that,” Cohon said.

Frank A. Cassell, who was president at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg from 1997 to 2007, lauded Nordenberg as “exceptional.”

“All you can do is pity his successor because that is a tough act to follow,” Cassell said. “He's worked very hard.”

Nordenberg said he plans to remain active in civic affairs and teach at Pitt, and said he hopes his successor will maintain strong ties with CMU and UPMC.

Eva Tansky Blum, a vice chairwoman on Pitt's board of trustees, will lead a search committee to identify candidates to succeed Nordenberg, according to board Chairman Stephen R. Tritch. Tritch said the committee will conduct a national search, but also will consider candidates at the university.

Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7996 or Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676 or

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