A Q&A With Provost Patricia E. Beeson

Issue Date: 
September 7, 2010

Less than two weeks into your administration, you’ve filled three key senior staff positions: vice provosts for undergraduate and graduate education and for academic planning and resources management. How do these three hires position you as you begin your first year as Pitt’s provost?

I am delighted that I have been able to recruit for these positions—from a very impressive pool of candidates—such talented, dedicated, and respected individuals as David DeJong, Juan Manfredi, and Alberta Sbragia. I know they are fully committed to advancing the academic mission of the University and working in a collaborative leadership environment. Each of the new vice provosts is a strong fit for his or her role,  bringing academic values as well as administrative experience to the position.  This has been acknowledged in the very positive responses to these appointments that I’ve received from the University community across all of our campuses. Finally, let me say I am gratified that we are able get our full team in place at the beginning of this new academic year, which, I think, positions us to make an orderly transition of leadership and gets us off to a positive and successful start.

Provost Beeson welcomes freshman students during this year's orientation at Pitt.Provost Beeson welcomes freshman students during this year's orientation at Pitt.

You have been at Pitt more than 25 years now, long enough to see the University change in many ways. As Pitt’s new chief academic officer, what key aspects of that role do you think are important to focus on in the years ahead?

My first and highest priority is to maintain the momentum that has been established over the past 15 years. The University of Pittsburgh has had unprecedented success during that time, and we will continue to build on that strong foundation, moving to even higher levels of excellence and solidifying our reputation as one of the very best public research universities in the country. The most important role of a provost, I think, is to keep everyone focused on the core academic mission of the University. We take very seriously our mission to provide high-quality undergraduate programs that will prepare students for meaningful and productive lives and to offer graduate and professional programs that will prepare our graduates to be highly skilled professionals and leaders in a broad range of fields. In research, we will continue to focus on supporting an environment that results in high-impact research and scholarly and creative output that address some of the most pressing issues in many areas of endeavor. And we will continue to engage with external constituencies by finding ways to use our knowledge and expertise for the betterment of our communities—local, national, and global.

Given the number of activities that will be demanding your attention in your first year, what are some of the specific things you would like to accomplish?

One of my main goals this year, as I bring on board three new vice provosts, is to build a strong, effective, and efficient team in our office and, with the Council of Deans, to develop an agenda to further advance the institution. I have already begun conversations with deans, presidents, and directors on possible new ideas for initiatives that we might embark upon in the months ahead. In this next year, I also anticipate that we will be making progress on many of our multidisciplinary research initiatives—including energy, simulation and modeling, and others. I am particularly excited about our new University-wide plan to guide Pitt’s global and international initiatives, and I expect to be providing updates on our progress. (Editor’s note: This issue of the Pitt Chronicle provides a detailed look at the extent to which an international and global perspective already permeates the University.) Finally, the University’s accreditation review process begins in earnest this year, and for the next 12 months, many individuals in our University community will be focused on preparing a self-study report. So that is something we absolutely will accomplish.

Less than a month into your role as Pitt’s provost, you welcomed your first new class of students. What about that has been most exciting, most unexpected?

This academic year is off to an excellent start. The staff in Admissions and Financial Aid did a terrific job reaching out to promising students, helping them to understand what Pitt has to offer and to see themselves as a part of this campus.   Student Affairs helped to ease the transition for our students through a wonderful series of motivating and informational events. And Arrival Survival is now such a well-honed machine that we barely noticed the impact of  more than 3,500 new residents moving onto campus. At this year’s orientation, I spent a lot of time talking with parents. They told me about their many positive experiences with Pitt and, as a result, how comfortable they are leaving their students here (though they still had worried looks on their faces). And this time it struck me maybe more than it ever did before: We have to deliver. We have a great responsibility to these families. It is critical for us to continue to build even stronger academic programs and to align experiences outside the classroom with the academic goals we have for our undergraduates, providing for them the foundations they need for successful lives. That is our value and our promise, and it is both exciting and sobering to be the provost of an institution in which so much trust is given.

During your time at Pitt, you’ve been successful as a faculty member and as an administrator, both at the school level and at the University level. What did you find rewarding in your past roles and what do you expect to be the most rewarding aspect of this position?

Let me first say that one of the things I’ve truly enjoyed in all of my roles at Pitt has been the opportunity to work closely with so many accomplished individuals from such diverse backgrounds and with such broad interests. I look forward to that continuing. During my years here, I have learned what is special about great universities, particularly this one. So I expect that the most fulfilling aspect of my new role will be helping to create the environments and provide the resources that will enable all members of the Pitt community to continue to move toward excellence and take advantage of the enormous opportunities provided by a University of our caliber and character.