Randy Juhl: A Maestro With Many Roles

Issue Date: 
June 15, 2015

A testament to Vice Chancellor Randy Juhl’s graceful and masterful leadership is the sheer number of complex roles he has stepped into at Pitt. Currently vice chancellor for research conduct and compliance for the University and Distinguished Service Professor of Pharmacy, Juhl retires on July 2. 

Among the challenging tasks he has tackled is the 2002 reorganization of fundraising efforts in Pitt’s schools of the health sciences, which resulted in the formation of the Medical and Health Sciences Foundation, a collaboration of Pitt and UPMC. In 2004, he guided Pitt’s Institute of Politics successfully through challenges it faced. Most recently, rather than glide his way into retirement, Juhl led the athletics department while football coach Pat Narduzzi was hired, and he chaired the search for new athletic director Scott Barnes.

An early bellwether of Juhl’s deftness in navigating thorny situations is what he calls the School of Pharmacy’s Black Tuesday—the Tuesday after Thanksgiving 1984 when the University told school administrators that the school would be closed. “That was a life-changing day,” Juhl says.

Randy JuhlJuhl had come to Pitt five years earlier as a faculty member and department chair—in his words, “a very green, very naive department chair.” That’s not quite the truth. Fresh from doctoral work at the University of Iowa in 1976, he became director of clinical pharmacy education at Ferris State University in Michigan. The clinical understanding of drugs is central to pharmacy studies today, thanks to groundbreakers like Juhl, but at that time, the focus was more on drug chemistry and biochemistry and the principles of manufacturing and testing them.

Within six months of Juhl’s start at Ferris State, the assistant dean of the school resigned, the associate dean died, and the dean left for another school. As Juhl drolly states in a personal statement that provides an account of his career, “I became the senior administrator only weeks after my diploma from Iowa arrived in the mail.” Later, he states, “This assignment was the first episode of what was to become a recurring theme throughout my career: building new or refurbishing distressed programs.”

In a sense, Juhl had already been groomed for the role of a lifetime. His Cliff Notes version of the Black Tuesday challenge cuts right to the chase. “That was in 1984. In 2002, I ended my tenure as dean of the School of Pharmacy,” he says. “At the time, we were in the top ten of NIH-funded schools of pharmacy in the country.” Clearly, Juhl has a talent for leadership—and “closure” wasn’t to be.

School of Pharmacy Dean Patricia Kroboth, who was an assistant professor back then, offers this perspective: “Randy was one of the people who helped to forge those within the school into a real community across disciplinary lines,” she says. “He brought everybody together, rallied the alumni, and, in a short period of time, got everybody behind the cause—not that we needed a lot of pushing or pulling. He emerged as the leader.”

Juhl was named dean in 1986. By the time he left that position in 2002—to become part of then-Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg’s leadership team—the school was not only in good shape, it was in remarkable shape. A few highlights:

• Conversion to a six-year post-baccalaureate and entry-level PharmD program 

• Increase from a dozen teaching assistantships to 80 now under Dean Kroboth

• Development of 40 accredited PharmD residency programs

• Creation of the Clinical Pharmaceutical Scientist PhD program

• Increase in external research funding to $12 million by 2002

“Leaders with Randy Juhl’s range and record of accomplishment are very rare,” says Nordenberg. “He became dean of our School of Pharmacy during a period of real turmoil, following a recommendation from a University-wide planning process that the School [of Pharmacy] actually be closed. From that less-than-enviable starting point, he helped lay the foundation for what our School of Pharmacy is today—one of the country’s finest.”

From there, Juhl moved on to the Chancellor’s leadership team as a vice chancellor. 

Nordenberg notes, “Particularly in a research powerhouse like Pitt, the job of vice chancellor for research conduct and compliance can be very difficult because mandated responsibilities sometimes collide with both institutional ambition and strong-willed personalities. Randy managed those responsibilities with high levels of professionalism and the right human touch.

“And even while shouldering those responsibilities, he would take on other demanding assignments, such as serving on two Chancellor search committees, chairing a Provost search committee, and serving on the special committee that recommended policies with respect to domestic partner benefits,” Nordenberg continues. “At a time when that was a politically contentious issue, Randy played a key role in crafting an approach that enabled Pitt to become the first public university in Pennsylvania to offer those benefits. I often told our board chairs when short-term succession issues were discussed that there were very few jobs that Randy could not do well. However, I must confess that he exceeded even my nearly boundless expectations when he became the interim athletic director and served in that role with distinction.”

One of the secrets to Juhl’s success is that he is someone who people are happy to sit down with in meetings. “If ever there was some tension in the room, Randy could easily come in and, with his dry sense of humor, absolutely level the playing field and have people be able to get on with the work,” observes Institute of Politics Director Terry Miller.

“He tends to be very quiet, and yet he brings the very best out of people around him. He’s been able to fit into all these different areas because he’s very smart and intuitive,” says Kroboth. “We’re all going to miss him terribly on this campus. He has been such a terrific leader and, to me, a good friend.”

Juhl is married to a fellow pharmacist, Renee (PHARM ’78), who works for Mylan Pharmaceuticals. She was the first director of pharmacy at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic and a full-time pharmacy faculty member at Pitt for 15 years. They have two grown sons and two “perfect” granddaughters, Juhl says. In recent years, he has taken up woodworking. One of his projects was a ukulele. “It just sits there and looks nice for the time being,” he says. “That’s a retirement goal—to learn how to actually make music come out of it.”

In a way, making music is one way to look at Juhl’s many gifts. Time and again, he has brought disparate elements together, found the hidden resonances, and brought even difficult circumstances to harmonious resolution. 

Learning to play the ukulele should be a snap.