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Pitt taps U.S. Commerce official as next chancellor

Debra Erdley
| Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014, 9:27 a.m.

When University of Pittsburgh trustees looked for the school's next chancellor, they turned to an alumnus with a strong background in science and business.

On Saturday, they named Patrick Gallagher, a Pitt-educated physicist, who is acting deputy secretary of the Department of Commerce and director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, as the school's chancellor-elect.

The appointment, effective on Aug. 1, represents a homecoming for Gallagher, 50. His mother, Clare, grew up in Carrick, and the New Mexico native said he frequently visited his grandparents in Pittsburgh as a child. He met his wife, Karen, while he was a graduate student at Pitt and she was interning as an occupational therapist in local hospitals.

Gallagher said he wants to get to know the region, build relationships with business and civic leaders and leverage them for the university's continued success.

“The secret sauce at NIST was that to be effective, we had to partner,” Gallagher said.

He said he has extensive experience in forging public-private partnerships with the nation's leading research universities and business.

“With Pitt being such a research powerhouse, having someone who knows the inner workings of Washington and the federal research side will be a real strength,” said Rich Lunak, president and CEO of InnovationWorks, a nonprofit that promotes tech startups. Lunak is not a member of Pitt's board.

Gallagher's appointment capped a five-month international search for a successor for longtime Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg.

“Public service has been an underlying value throughout my career, and I can think of no higher form of public service than leading this great university,” Gallagher said, thanking the board and adding that he'll look to Nordenberg for guidance.

Gallagher will be paid an annual base salary of $525,000. And in a move seemingly aimed at ensuring he will remain with the university for the next five years, Pitt officials approved five annual retention incentive payments of $100,000 that will vest only if he does not leave or is not dismissed before July 31, 2019.

Pitt trustees said Gallagher emerged early in their search as the candidate best qualified to build on advances the school has made under Nordenberg's leadership since 1995.

Gallagher, who went to work for NIST in 1993, earned his doctorate in physics at Pitt in 1991 and returned as its commencement speaker in 2013.

The father of three traveled to Pittsburgh with his wife and their youngest son, Ryan, 16, last week. The couple's other sons, Sean, 21, and Devin, 19, are in college at the University of South Carolina and Towson University in Maryland.

As director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gallagher oversees an annual budget of $850 million and a staff of 3,000 scientists, engineers and others tasked with promoting innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards and technology.

As deputy secretary of Commerce, Gallagher acts as the chief operating officer of the department with overall responsibility for budget, planning and operations.

His boss, Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, wished him well.

“The university is indeed lucky to attract a person who has the ability to bring people together and form coalitions to get things done,” Pritzker said in a written statement.

Gov. Tom Corbett welcomes Gallagher as chancellor and looks forward to working with him and the board of trustees, said Corbett spokesman Tim Eller. As governor, Corbett is a nonvoting member of the board.

Gallagher's appointment was announced nearly three months after Carnegie Mellon University installed former National Science Foundation Director Subra Suresh as president.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, a nonvoting Pitt trustee, said Suresh and Gallagher have a good working relationship from their days in Washington, and that bodes well for Pittsburgh.

“Our success in this region is in no small part due to the great relationship Mark Nordenberg and (former CMU President) Jared Cohon had. Pat and Subra working together will continue that great relationship,” he predicted.

He said Pitt and CMU have played a large role in Pittsburgh's emergence as a tech hub.

“When you read about Pittsburgh being on the map in terms of technology and keeping and attracting more young people over the last 15 years, it cannot be overestimated,” he said.

Suresh said he looks forward to working with Gallagher.

“During three years when we were in Washington at the same time, we met on a number of occasions. I chaired several committees on which he was a member. We met at meetings at the White House. He visited me, and I visited him, and we had opportunities to work together on a number of initiatives. I'm thrilled that he is doing this,” Suresh said.

Gallagher charmed senior Pitt faculty members who have met him.

“I think it's a fabulous choice,” said Dr. Tom Smitherman, professor emeritus in Pitt's school of medicine and past faculty senate president. “And so far as I know, he has the same human qualities as Chancellor Nordenberg, which has made this such a marvelous place to work.”

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, commended Pitt on Gallagher's appointment.

“I look forward to working with Mr. Gallagher to advance the mission of the University of Pittsburgh,” Casey said.

Gallagher said he has no experience in fundraising, a critical skill for university leaders dealing with shrinking state and federal support.

“But really, fundraising isn't so much about asking for money as it about developing relationships,” he said.

As a tuition-paying parent, he said, he has empathy for families struggling with soaring tuition costs and will focus on ensuring students get top value for their tuition.

“Nothing opens more doors in your life than the education you receive at an institution like this,” he said.

Gallagher plans to relocate to Pittsburgh this year.

The Gallaghers will maintain their Olney, Md., home, and it will be Karen Gallagher's primary residence for the next year until their youngest son graduates from high school.

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

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