Taking the Helm: Meet Pittsburgh's Newest College Leaders

Over the past two years, the leadership of the region’s universities has undergone an overhaul. We reached out to college and university presidents who are new on the job to ask why they came here and what they hope to accomplish during their tenure.

William J. Behre
Slippery Rock University
July 1, 2018

Before joining Slippery Rock as its 17th president, William J. Behre amassed more than 20 years of experience in higher education as a professor, researcher, faculty leader and administrator. Most recently, he served as provost at Georgian Court University in Lakewood, N.J.

What was it about Slippery Rock that made you take the job? 
It’s a great place. By any measure of success, SRU has established itself as a leader within Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education, posting record enrollment, retention and graduation numbers. It has a faculty and staff that are rowing in the same direction and a student population that is genuinely happy to be here. That said, I believe our best days are still ahead, and I hope to contribute to our success. 

What is the most pressing challenge for Slippery Rock?  Remaining affordable. The PASSHE board of governors will likely provide more local control of tuition in the coming years. When they do, we’ll have to carefully plan our strategy. If, for example, we were to adopt a slightly higher base tuition, we could create a larger financial aid pool, allowing more financially needful students to attend SRU.  

What would you like your legacy to be? 
Having only been here several weeks, it’s hard to give specifics. Years ago, a mentor said to me, “Leave the woodpile bigger than you found it.” Simply put, that’s my goal. We have great people doing fantastic things to help students succeed. I’d like to foster these activities wherever I can.

Farnam Jahanian
Carnegie Mellon University
March 8, 2018

​Farnam Jahanian was appointed CMU’s 10th president in March after previously serving as provost and chief academic officer. He came to CMU in 2014 as vice president for research and brought extensive leadership and administrative experience to the campus. He has a master’s and a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Texas at Austin. 

What was it about CMU that made you take the job? 
Located in a vibrant city, CMU has its finger on the pulse of the world. I was particularly attracted to the way in which this university intertwines science, technology and business with social sciences, humanities and the arts to advance knowledge and improve the human condition.  

What is the most pressing challenge for CMU? 
One of our greatest challenges is one that all colleges and universities face: How can we evolve our education and research to meet society’s needs in this age of digitization? We need to ensure that we are providing a strong foundation that will prepare our students for a lifetime of success in our knowledge-based economy.

What would you like your legacy to be? 
I would like CMU to continue to lead in the transformation of higher education. We have already pioneered interdisciplinary programs, including our Integrative Design, Arts and Technology (IDeATe) network; behavioral economics; neuroscience and computational biology. We are excited to launch the nation’s first undergraduate degree in artificial intelligence this fall. By continuing to leverage our strengths at the intersection of technology and humanity, we can deepen the societal impact of our research.

John C. Knapp
Washington & Jefferson College
August 1, 2017

John C. Knapp is the 13th president of Washington & Jefferson College. He is an author and speaker with leadership experience spanning the education, nonprofit and business sectors. Prior to joining W&J in 2017, he was president of Hope College in Holland, Mich.

What was it about W&J that made you take the job? 
The first thing that attracted me was W&J’s reputation as a well-respected liberal arts college with terrific pre-professional programs. When I visited for the first time, I really felt the community spirit on campus and knew it was a special place.

What is the most pressing challenge for W&J? 
Like many other institutions, we know it is more important than ever to help prospective students understand the value of the experience we offer. They rightfully want to know that the time and money they dedicate to their education will yield positive outcomes. I can proudly say that W&J graduates achieve great success in careers and post-graduate education thanks to our well-rounded but rigorous academic program. 
What would you like your legacy to be?  While I strive to serve the college in the best way possible, I’m less concerned with my own legacy and more with that of W&J. I consider it a privilege to steward a storied institution that has served society and students since 1781. We are now working collaboratively to develop a bold strategic plan to ensure that W&J remains at the cutting edge well into the future.

Dale-Elizabeth Pehrsson
Clarion University
July 1, 2018

Dale-Elizabeth Pehrsson received her graduate education at Idaho State University, earning degrees in community counseling and in curriculum, instruction and supervision and a doctorate in counselor education. She earned her undergraduate degree in liberal studies and associate degrees in nursing and liberal arts. 

What was it about Clarion that made you take the job? 
The strong faculty and well-prepared staff are committed to student success, and they prepare students for a life of continued learning. The university community, through academics and student life programs, teaches students to be self-reliant and think deeply about what matters in this world. Clarion is focused on teaching first — student learning is critical, and that resonates with me. 

What is the most pressing challenge for Clarion? 
Our challenges are similar to most northern universities: the population of high school students is declining in our region. We are asked to do more with less, and that strains all of us. Fundraising will help offset some of the concerns, but more is needed. We are building upon our strengths, capitalizing on domains in which Clarion is a leader.

What would you like your legacy to be? 
I would like to be recognized as someone who listens carefully to the needs of our constituents and the campus community, working together to build upon Clarion’s strengths and history. I want Clarion to be known as a leader in cultivating programs that meet the needs of this changing world, and I want to identify resources to support these goals.

Christopher B. Howard
Robert Morris University
February 1, 2016

Rhodes Scholar Christopher B. Howard, a distinguished graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, in 2013 earned a bronze star for service as a lieutenant colonel with the Air Force reserve in Afghanistan. He earned an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School and a doctorate in politics from the University of Oxford.

What was it about Robert Morris University that made you take the job?
I knew enough about Robert Morris University to know that it was on the right side of history. A college degree is a big investment, the biggest investment many families will make outside of their home, and they want to know their sons and daughters will get a great return in terms of professional success and personal satisfaction. RMU has always thought in those terms; it’s always promised to prepare students for great careers — and made good on that promise — without neglecting their personal well-being.

What is the most pressing challenge for RMU?
Our biggest challenge lies in having enough resources to provide opportunities for all students to succeed regardless of their background. Not every community has shared equally in Pittsburgh’s recent prosperity, but our entire region will suffer if all of our young people do not have the tools they need to participate in the economy. We have a moral obligation, not to mention a fiduciary responsibility, to make sure all our students arrive and thrive on campus, and get to and through to graduation. To help us meet this challenge, we’ve launched an initiative called Thrive RMU, which uses predictive analytics and highly customized academic interventions to boost retention and graduation rates.

What would you like your legacy to be?
Almost from the day I got here, I’ve said that I want Robert Morris University to be the preferred strategic partner for corporations, organizations, professionals and aspiring professionals in the Pittsburgh region and beyond. Now what does that mean? If you’re a Fortune 500 company, it might mean that RMU is where you turn when you want to provide leadership development to prepare young executives to move up to the C-suite. If you’re a K-12 school system, it’s where you go to prepare your teachers to become principals, and principals to become superintendents. If you’re a high school student, it’s where you go to get your bachelor’s degree, and then your master’s degree, and then, after you’ve become the president or CEO of your own company, it’s where you go to help your employees achieve their dreams. That is what I want my legacy to be.


David Finegold
Chatham University
July 1, 2016

David Finegold, Chatham’s 19th president, is a renowned scholar and educational innovator. He graduated from Harvard and was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, where he earned his doctorate in politics. He and his wife, Susan, have two children: Sam, 25, and Charlotte, 23.

What was it about Chatham that made you take the job?
I loved Chatham’s mission, size and complexity; it combines the best elements of a liberal arts education with professional training at a scale where I could get to know the faculty, staff and students individually. While Chatham offers this close-knit community, it also has three campuses, 26 graduate degrees and a range of online and applied research offerings that open up a far more exciting range of opportunities than most colleges our size.  

What is the most pressing challenge for Chatham?
To realize the full potential of our Eden Hall Campus, home to our Falk School of Sustainability and Environment. We invested $50 million to turn this nearly 400-acre farm on the outskirts of Pittsburgh into the greenest campus in the U.S. Falk has been growing steadily since its founding, and we are exploring what additional programs and activities could augment it to make Eden Hall a thriving, living-learning community.  

What would you like your legacy to be?
That Chatham is recognized as the place where talented individuals are prepared to be the leaders who will address two of the most pressing issues facing our world today: creating healthier people and a healthier planet.

Ken Gormley
Duquesne University
July 1, 2016

Pittsburgh native Ken Gormley, Duquesne’s 13th president, earned his B.A. from the University of Pittsburgh and his J.D. from Harvard Law School.  He has  been at Duquesne for 24 years now — first as a law school professor, then as dean, now as president.

What was it about Duquesne that made you take the job?
I grew up in Pittsburgh. When I left for Harvard, my goal was to come back and do something meaningful for my hometown. My four kids grew up here. For me, this is the greatest honor imaginable. Duquesne’s Catholic, Spiritan heritage of service to others has helped to build Pittsburgh for the past 140 years.  A job doesn’t get any better than this.

What is the most pressing challenge for Duquesne?
We constantly work to make Duquesne affordable, recognizing the financial sacrifice parents and students must make. Nearly every student receives some financial aid. We’re ranked as a “best value” university by Forbes, U.S. News and others. Our graduates command among the highest average salaries in the region. These must remain top priorities, along with producing ethical, highly qualified graduates.

What would you like your legacy to be?
I’d like people to say: “This president made every important decision based upon the best interests of the students entrusted to his care.” If I accomplish that, I’ve lived up to Duquesne’s historic legacy.

Geraldine M. Jones
California University of Pennsylvania
April 7, 2016

Geraldine M. Jones was appointed president of California University of Pennsylvania, her alma mater, in April 2016. Previously, she served the university as a faculty member, dean and provost before being named acting (and then interim) president in 2012.

What was it about Cal U that made you take the job?
Cal U has been a big part of my life since I arrived as a student almost 50 years ago. I’ve seen firsthand how Cal U can change lives, including my own, and I am honored to help shape the future of my alma mater.

What is the most pressing challenge for Cal U?
Our most pressing task is to continue developing top quality academic programs that will attract and empower students, so they can graduate from Cal U as career-ready professionals with excellent job prospects. We also are creating education options to address the needs of working professionals and other adult learners.

What would you like your legacy to be?
I want to build on Cal U’s proud tradition of academic excellence by positioning the university for success in a rapidly changing world. This requires us to combine data-driven decision-making with an unwavering commitment to putting our students first. I seek to build a culture in which we listen carefully to our students and their future employers, and then respond with academic programs that prepare graduates to enter the workforce career-ready, confident and equipped for lifelong learning.

Kathy Brittain Richardson
Westminster College
July 1, 2016

Kathy Richardson, Westminster’s 15th president, came to the school from Berry College in Georgia, where she was provost and professor of communication. She has a doctorate in mass communication from the University of Georgia.

What was it about Westminster that made you take the job?
The founding vision of Westminster in 1852 set it among the first colleges in the country to be open to men, women and persons of color regardless of creed — an aspiration that continues to resonate some 166 years later. Westminster’s mission inspires students to acquire the competencies, commitments and characteristics of humankind at its best. Through its long history, Westminster has continued to offer access to outstanding education from committed faculty, staff and alumni.

What is the most pressing challenge for Westminster?
Growing undergraduate enrollment through expanded recruitment and retention is a critical challenge and opportunity. We must continue to deepen the value of the collaborative, highly experiential education students find here and to demonstrate the real outcomes such an education delivers — from outstanding admission rates to graduate and professional schools to strong job placement. 

What would you like your legacy to be?
The theme of my presidency thus far has been to celebrate and foster the “We in Westminster.” Sustaining the strong and vibrant “We” for our students, alumni, faculty and staff would be a great legacy. I hope to facilitate such success as we work together to provide a holistic education for our students through academics, student life, athletics and spiritual life.

Calvin L. Troup
Geneva College
July 1, 2016

Calvin L. Troup, the 20th president of Geneva College, is also a graduate of the school. He earned a master’s degree and Ph.D. in speech communication from Penn State University.

What was it about Geneva that made you take the job?
The college’s mission. At Geneva, we have received a strong heritage of service to Christ and country through many moments of history in this region. The heritage includes deep commitments to biblical truth as the starting point for serious, broad-spectrum intellectual engagement to equip students for their life’s work in the real world. I wanted to join and serve on this project.

What is the most pressing challenge for Geneva?
Educating students today for the uncertainties of tomorrow. The world of the next generation never turns out to be what prognosticators are saying today. Good majors prepare people for good jobs upon graduation; good degrees educate people to navigate what has not yet appeared on the horizon. Great education takes mutual commitments and sustained hard work by students with teachers. We need the will to engage hard questions together that do not have easy answers in a moment that believes good education can and should be fast, convenient and inexpensive.

What would you like your legacy to be?
That I extended the heritage of the college to the next generation better than it was when I came. And to that Geneva students educated on my watch would become people who long to hear the words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

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