Pitt in Europe

Issue Date: 
September 10, 2007

Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg leads a University of Pittsburgh delegation to Belgium and Luxembourg. Its mission: making Pitt an even stronger force in European studies.


Members of the Pitt delegation in Brussels with European Commission President José Manuel Barroso. From left: Ronald A. Brand, director of Pitt’s Center for International Legal Education; Pitt Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg; Barroso; Alberta Sbragia, director of the University’s European Union Center of Excellence/European Studies Center (EUCE/ESC); Lawrence Feick, director of Pitt’s University Center for International Studies; and Timothy Thompson, EUCE/ESC associate director.


Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker

To strengthen the University of Pittsburgh’s ties with Europe—and solidify the University’s reputation as one of the best places in the world to conduct research on the European Union (EU)—Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg led a Pitt delegation to Belgium and Luxembourg May 27-June 3.
The Pitt Chronicle recently interviewed Nordenberg about that trip and, more generally, his foreign travels on the University’s behalf.

PITT CHRONICLE: What is the process by which you make decisions about traveling abroad?

Nordenberg: In a sense, the decision-making process is straightforward. As you would expect, I exercise a key level of judgment myself, particularly in determining whether I can find the time to travel at all. Because there always is so much going on here, breaking away for extended periods of time is not easy.
Beyond that, I am guided to a very considerable extent by the director of the University Center for International Studies (UCIS). UCIS sits at the center of our international initiatives, and its director is best positioned to help develop travel priorities.

What made Belgium and Luxembourg priorities for summer 2007?

Strength in international studies is one of the distinguishing characteristics of our University, and, in planning a trip to Europe, the single-most important factor was our great strength in European studies and our desire to get even stronger. Our European Studies Center recently was redesignated a national resource center by the U.S. Department of Education, and our European Union Center of Excellence is one of just 10 such centers funded by the European Commission.

In this case, two other factors also had an impact. Professor Alberta Sbragia, who directs both of these centers, had just been named to the endowed chair created in my name, reflecting my own strong desire to further advance European studies at Pitt. Also, I had not been to Europe for several years, leading to a feeling that this might be a good time for what the people in UCIS call “a chancellor-level visit.”

What makes a visit by a team that includes the chancellor different from other visits?

Clearly, faculty members with relevant expertise and recognized records of accomplishment are the most important members of any such delegation. This visit, then, really was built around the work of Professor Sbragia and Professor Ronald Brand, who leads our Center for International Legal Education. Both Alberta and Ron are very well known and highly respected in Europe. Timothy Thompson from our EU Center of Excellence did a magnificent job of planning the trip, and Larry Feick, who already was in Europe, joined us, even though his service as UCIS director would not formally begin until later in the summer.

My presence probably added to the visit in two main ways: It helped facilitate a higher level of access in terms of the meetings we were able to schedule, and it was viewed as visible evidence of the importance this University attaches to European studies.

In terms of access, it appears that you were able to schedule some very high-level meetings.

Frankly, our European colleagues seemed amazed at some of the meetings we were able to arrange. The clear high point of our time in Brussels was a private session with José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission. President Barroso had visited Pitt, where he delivered an address to a standing-room-only audience, last fall. In addition to his distinguished record of leadership, he is a very engaging person who has thought-provoking perspectives on our changing world, so it was a real pleasure to reconnect with him.

Similarly, in Luxembourg we had a private meeting with Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker. The prime minister is another highly respected European leader who has visited our University, and it was nice to build on that existing sense of connection.

In each case, these are forward-looking leaders who place a high priority on relations between Europe and the United States and who have a real interest in what we are doing at Pitt.

We also had stimulating meetings with representatives of the European Parliament, the European Court of Auditors, and the European Court of Justice.

What key messages did you and others from Pitt attempt to convey at these meetings?

Most fundamentally, we wanted to highlight both the overall momentum of our University and our strength in European studies. Pitt is very highly regarded in Europe, but it always helps to be able to enhance those impressions with specific information conveyed in a face-to-face setting.
Perhaps because people in other parts of the world, as in this country, seem almost obsessed with rankings of any sort, those with whom we met were particularly taken with the examples we used to support our use of the theme, “We all are judged by the company we keep.”

We also were able to share some items of “late-breaking news” that were of special interest to European colleagues. Two key examples were our library system’s selection to receive the entire European Union depository collection from the Delegation of the European Commission to the United States and our recruitment of John Keeler—a widely respected scholar of European politics, comparative public policy, and transatlantic relations—from the University of Washington to serve as dean of our Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.

Besides generally elevating impressions of Pitt, were there other goals for this trip?

Some of our goals were programmatic. For example, we met with colleagues from two major Belgian universities—signing an agreement of cooperation with the Université Libre de Bruxelles and conducting discussions toward that same end with the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. We also had very informative discussions with the executive director of the Fulbright Commission in Brussels.

The theme central to many of our discussions was our strong desire to create additional internship opportunities for our students in Europe, and we received some encouraging offers of help toward advancing that goal.

Did any of the meetings involve broader issues, including some that were not Pitt-specific?

We had an extended and very substantive discussion with the U.S. Mission to the European Union about European perceptions of the United States and about the challenges still being faced by international students hoping to study in this country, a situation that we believe will work to our long-term national disadvantage.

We also hosted a very well attended reception for “friends of Pitt” in Brussels. That group included academic partners, alumni, and colleagues from within the various offices and agencies we had visited. In a setting like that, of course, the conversations are wide-ranging. I was left with the impression that events of that type are not common in Europe, and everyone seemed pleased—including one Pitt graduate from the United States who just happened to be staying in the same hotel and “crashed the party” when he saw the sign directing people to our reception.

In that way and in so many others, this trip underscored the basic message that this is a very small world. In that sense, the mission of our University Center for International Studies—to enhance understanding of that world—is absolutely critical.


Chancellor Nordenberg and Serge Jauman, vice rector for international relations at the Université Libre de Bruxelles.


Nordenberg is greeted in Brussels by European Commission President Barroso


European Parliament Project Director Michael Shackleton and Pitt’s Alberta Sbragia in the European Parliament