Message from the Provost – November 19, 2018

A Message from Provost Ann. E. Cudd

November 19, 2018

Dear Panther Nation:

The last few weeks brought us together as a community. The circumstances of the Tree of Life incident were profoundly tragic. But within that pain—shared, quite literally, around the world—we learned more about how strong we are, how committed we are to a common humanity, and how united we are in our opposition to ignorance, intolerance, and hatred.

Research suggests that organizations that have a sense of purpose—of a vision beyond day-to-day efforts—have cultures that foster innovation. The University of Pittsburgh has always had a clear sense of purpose—and it is an exceptionally noble one. It is one that has, decade after decade, transformed lives.

Dreams become reality here. We have an abiding goal to achieve excellence in education and research and to engage with our local and global communities to create a better world, and the Plan for Pitt has set forth an ambitious path. It is also a path that demands innovative thinking—but what does that mean? I think it means purposeful strides forward—strides that are responsive and that also stretch and redefine not only what is possible but what is meaningful.

As I have talked about the value of pedagogical innovation, some have asked: What if we don’t innovate but just teach well? I would say the word “just” feels like we are diminishing the critically important role that excellent pedagogy plays in the lives of our students and their experiences on our campuses. And it feels important to recognize that responsiveness to changing student needs and our goals for learning is a balance of commitment to our disciplinary standards and creativity and flexibility to address new generations of students and new challenges in the world. We can chart the course for forward-thinking education while instilling disciplinary perspectives that help guide deep thinking; after all, teaching means leading forward.

That also implies continual, lifelong learning for all of us. As American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer John Dewey said, “If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.”

Our changes can be small or large, but what should be a constant is our responsiveness to shifting times, thought, and possibilities. Teaching by its nature invites us to explore and probe. We inquire for a purpose. We ask: What is the problem we are trying to solve? And we innovate in response to problems.

For instance, I was fortunate to attend Brain Day 2018 on October 25, held by the University of Pittsburgh’s Brain Institute, which conducts leading-edge research into brain function and brain disorders. Brain Day provides those involved in multiple aspects of neuroscience the chance to interact with experts in the field, discover how scientists are tackling the big challenges, and learn more about research that leads to new treatments and cures. It was an amazing event—and one that reflects the work the University of Pittsburgh does each day to enhance knowledge and human understanding.

Another great example of such an effort was October’s inaugural Advanced Analytics Summit. Vice Provost Steve Wisniewski and his Data Analytics team took the lead to bring representatives from more than 40 universities across the country together to share insights into cutting-edge usage of advanced analytics to support student success through targeted, personalized outreach.

Terms like “advanced analytics” might sound like buzzwords, but that’s not the case if we use the tools intentionally and to address problems purposefully. Two of the University’s priorities in using advanced data analytics are to raise graduation rates and close achievement gaps while also supporting excellence in education and helping students build a network, identify and pursue life goals, and lead lives of impact.

With those goals in mind, it’s my belief that, as advanced analytics moves forward at the University, we must also keep our focus on whether the use of data is universally good, what potential dangers exist, and how to maintain the human components to avoid overgeneralizing.

Part of that personalized, tailored approach, and one that maintains the human touch, rests in the hands of those serving as advisors, mentors, and coaches—both in formal and informal capacities.

I am pleased to say that the Office of the Provost is continuing its efforts to keep those individuals in the know and on the cutting edge when it comes to the innovative tools, topics, and strategies that will enhance their ability to support the students in their sphere.

We are now accepting proposals for workshops, idea sessions, and posters for the 2019 Mentoring and Advising Summit, scheduled for March 7, 2019. This year, the summit aims to continue building a strong culture of diversity in mentoring and advising work. Please consider participating by submitting a proposal. Proposals are due December 5.

I am also excited to announce we are accepting applications for the next round of grants in the Provost’s Personalized Education Grant Program. Earlier this year, the Office of the Provost awarded funding to 17 projects across the University that aspire to personalize the educational experience for our students in areas ranging from teaching methods and course planning to extracurricular programming and, of course, mentoring and advising. Naturally, data-driven approaches often play a role here. Proposals can be submitted until January 4. I am excited to see what amazing ideas emerge this year!

It’s been an active period for diversity programming in our office. At the end of October we kicked off the Institutional Mentoring Program Across a Community of Color, or IMPACT. This new program is designed to boost networking, mentoring, and community-building opportunities for faculty of color, especially those in the first years of their appointment. As Senior Vice Chancellor Kathy Humphrey indicated in her keynote address in the October 29 session, effective networks have the power to help you advance and succeed. I am looking forward to seeing how this program advances throughout this academic year and beyond.

I am also pleased to congratulate this year’s winners of the Provost’s Award for Diversity in the Curriculum: Valire Copeland, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, School of Social Work; Audrey Murrell, Associate Dean, and Ray Jones, Associate Professor, in the College of Business Administration; Christine Dahlin, Associate Professor, Department of Biology, University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown; Michael Goodhart, Professor, Department of Political Science, Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences; and Lorin Grieve, Instructor, Department of Pharmacy and Therapeutics, School of Pharmacy. Their ability to actively integrate diversity and inclusion into their teaching practices and curriculum can be an inspiration to their peers and others at the University.

I have been delighted to hear of the great positive response to the new Panthers Forward initiative, championed by our Chancellor and a very committed team, to bring the broad Pitt community together to support student success. This program is an important start as we focus our efforts on how we can reduce the burden our students and parents bear due to unmet need. If you’re not already familiar with the program, please take a moment to learn more about Panthers Forward.

An outgrowth of initial discussions two years ago, Admissions and Financial Aid and Student Life have been reexamining, with the guidance of a task force working with Vice Provosts Marc Harding and Kenyon Bonner, the framework and delivery for onboarding new undergraduates—from the approach to academic orientation to the transition to campus life. I am pleased to share that I have approved the task force’s recommendations.

Change is also afoot at three of our regional campuses, as we look to fill the top leadership positions there. A search committee for the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg is looking for a successor to President Sharon Smith, who announced in July her plan to retire. A search committee has also reopened the search for the next President of the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford and the University of Pittsburgh at Titusville. In both cases, Pitt community members and friends are invited to share thoughts and feedback on the next presidents through community surveys. If you’d like to provide input, please go to Community Survey: Pitt-Bradford and Pitt-Titusville President and Community Survey: Pitt-Greensburg President.

I am committed to maintaining an open line of communication with faculty, students, and staff.   As another step in my efforts, I have established monthly office hours for all in these categories. I hope you will use this forum as an opportunity to meet with me directly to share suggestions, feedback, and concerns.

My office hours will be held in the Office of the Provost suite, 801 Cathedral of Learning. No appointment is necessary; I will meet with office hour visitors in the order in which they arrive.

The first two slots are scheduled for November 20 from 3:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. and December 14 from 10:30 a.m. to noon. Please check the schedule in advance for any updates.

Of course, please feel free to reach out to me at any time through email ( or by phone (412-624-4223).

As I reflect on these first three months in my role of Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor, it has been rewarding to see and hear firsthand all the good, innovative work that’s happening at the University and—through ongoing dialogues with colleagues and the stellar events across the campuses—to glimpse the exciting work that’s on the horizon.

I hope you all have a great Thanksgiving, and Hail to Pitt!

Ann E. Cudd
Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor


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