Pitt Reaches Pact With Philadelphia University to Manage Late U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter’s Archive

Issue Date: 
March 4, 2013

By Sharon Blake and Debbie Goldberg
The University of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia University have entered into an agreement to advance the preservation of, and access to, late U.S. Senator Arlen Specter’s archive, the Arlen Specter Collection, which is part of the Arlen Specter Center for Public Policy at Philadelphia University.

The Arlen Specter Collection—comprising more than 2,700 boxes of papers, photographs, audio and video materials, and memorabilia—includes a wide range of historic documents on such important events in modern U.S. history as:

 • the Warren Commission’s investigation into the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (as an aide to the commission, Specter advanced the lone-gunman “single bullet” theory); and 

• Specter’s crossing party lines to become the only Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee to vote against the nomination of Judge Robert H. Bork to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987.

Under the agreement, Pitt’s University Library System will organize and manage the Arlen Specter Collection over the next four years and store the collection for a period of 30 years. Philadelphia University retains ownership of the archive, and the two universities will collaborate on educational programming related to the archive and facilitate access to it by students, researchers, and the general public. The agreement forges a working partnership that will allow the sharing of exhibitions and other scholarly work emanating from the archive by the two academic institutions at opposite ends of the Commonwealth, with Pittsburgh in the west and Philadelphia in the east. The center’s first exhibition, focusing on the Warren Commission’s report, will open in October 2013 and run through April 15, 2014, in observance of the 50th anniversary of the Nov. 22, 1963, Kennedy assassination.

“Over the course of his distinguished career, Senator Arlen Specter played a key role in some of the most significant political events of recent American history. He also was a good friend to Pitt, to Pittsburgh, and to the region that we call home,” said Pitt Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg. “The University of Pittsburgh is extremely fortunate, therefore, to partner with Philadelphia University as the repository of the late Senator’s archive of historically priceless materials—treasures that will benefit students, scholars, and the public for generations to come.” 

“The Arlen Specter Center for Public Policy will be enriched by this new initiative between Philadelphia University and the University of Pittsburgh,” said Philadelphia University President Stephen Spinelli Jr. “I am particularly grateful to Elsie Hillman, a prominent political and philanthropic leader in Pennsylvania, for her efforts to initiate and promote this beneficial partnership and for her philanthropic support of the Arlen Specter Center.”

Specter passed away in October 2012 after having represented the Commonwealth for 30 years as Pennsylvania’s longest-serving U.S. Senator and one of the most influential U.S. senators of his time. In December 2010, he donated his extensive archive, encompassing 50 years of public service, to Philadelphia University to establish the Arlen Specter Center for Public Policy. The center’s mission is to foster greater understanding of political science, government, and history through research, educational programming, and exhibitions inspired by Specter’s career as reflected in his extensive archive.

The center is a $5 million initiative that includes the restoration of Philadelphia University’s historic Roxboro House, where the center will be housed. Construction got under way in December 2012 on the $4 million renovation project, which is scheduled to be completed by February 2014. A ceremonial groundbreaking for the center will take place on May 23, 2013. Visit www.philau.edu/spectercenter for more information.

The Arlen Specter Collection will be archived and housed in the University of Pittsburgh’s Archives Service Center, 7500 Thomas Blvd., Point Breeze, three miles from the University’s Pittsburgh campus. As a state-of-the-art repository for manuscripts and records collections, the building is equipped with a high-bay storage facility that is unique in Pennsylvania.

Pitt’s University Library System has a history of archiving and managing collections of important elected officials, including the papers of Pitt alumnus and trustee Dick Thornburgh (LAW ’57), former governor of Pennsylvania and former U.S. attorney general; the late longtime civil rights champion and Pitt alumnus K. Leroy Irvis (LAW ’54), who in 1977 became the first African American speaker of the House of Representatives in Pennsylvania and the first Black speaker of any state house since Reconstruction; the late U.S. representative and Pitt alumnus John P. Murtha (A&S ’61); and former U.S. representative from Pennsylvania Jason Altmire (District 4).

“The collaboration between Philadelphia University and the University of Pittsburgh will be extremely beneficial in helping to transform the deep and rich archive of Senator Specter into an outstanding research and public information asset,” said Karen Albert, director of the Paul J. Gutman Library at Philadelphia University and coordinator of the Arlen Specter Center for Public Policy. “The joint application of expertise, resources, and commitment will allow both institutions to employ our distinctive capabilities to organize, digitize, and manage these valuable materials, and we look forward to working with our colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh.”

“This partnership relative to the Specter Collection will result in the documentary records of Pennsylvania’s longest-serving U.S. Senator being readily available to students and faculty here at Pitt, as well as to visiting researchers. In considering the sweep of historical events and the changing political climate that Senator Specter not only witnessed but contributed to as a central figure, we know his collection will provide significant resource material on a wide range of subjects. We look forward to working with Philadelphia University to advance the research interests in the collection,” said Michael J. Dabrishus, assistant university librarian at the University of Pittsburgh.

Philadelphia University, founded in 1844, is a coeducational private university with 3,600 students enrolled in more than 60 undergraduate and graduate programs. Philadelphia University includes the Kanbar College of Design, Engineering and Commerce; the College of Architecture and the Built Environment; and the College of Science, Health and the Liberal Arts. Visit www.PhilaU.edu for more information.