Published August 22, 2013
The history of Oakland has for far too long been a history of the residential community being dominated by University of Pittsburgh administrators. This oppressive consciousness, and the presence of an administration dictating how we in the community are to live, must end. We agreed with Chancellor Mark Nordenberg’s remarks at the June 28, 2013, Board meeting when he said that this would be a good time “to search for an even better Chancellor.” With a new Chancellor must come a new beginning for the community of Oakland.
Would you want a university to impact your community the way the University of Pittsburgh has impacted Oakland? This impact includes university administrators taking ownership of 90 buildings in your community; building 8,000 dormitory beds; increasing enrollment to 27,000 students; persuading state authorities to invoke eminent domain to erect university buildings, thus evicting you and your neighbors from your homes; and giving your residential organizations a paltry $23,000 a year in direct funding and being told to start a Neighborhood Improvement District to resolve problems such as littering and binge drinking.
The residential community of Oakland must have a meaningful voice in the selection of a new Chancellor, if you cannot honestly answer “yes” to that question.
Here are a few problem issues that the new Chancellor has to address and resolve.
1) Expansion Must End
South Bouquet Street is a perfect example of Oakland being dominated and exploited by the University of Pittsburgh. University administrators persuaded state authorities to invoke eminent domain and evict residents and businesses, including many long-term occupants, on part of South Bouquet Street. The University also had a hand in the demolition of a church that once shared the street with approximately 210 residents and a dozen students. The church was demolished, and today the street houses over 700 students and only three residents.
What if a similar scenario happened on Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill, or Grandview Avenue in Mt. Washington, or Walnut Street in Shadyside, or Brookline Boulevard in Brookline? What if this happened on a main street in your community? Would you be outraged, or would you praise the University’s administration and want to name buildings after its Chancellors?
For several years we have asked for an honest and comprehensive Impact Statement before any further community expansion. The Chancellor and his administrators have blatantly ignored this request.
The latest expansion by Pitt, and one that took many people by surprise, was the Mark A. Nordenberg Hall—a $59 million, 10-story, 559-bed freshmen dormitory building. Was there an ignoble origin to this massive building? When the Chancellor and his administrators were seeking Pittsburgh City Council’s approval of Pitt’s Master Plan at the hearings on May 6 and 12 of 2010, there was no mention of this dormitory expansion. The only dormitory expansion discussed at the hearings was of the Bouquet Gardens on South Bouquet Street. Were Councilman Bill Peduto, who chaired the hearings, and other members of City Council deceived into thinking that the only dormitory expansion would be on South Bouquet Street? You can purchase videos of those two hearings and make your own decision.
In addition to owning numerous properties in our community, the University
leases properties, often to the detriment of our residents. One such
example is the Park Plaza condominiums. A developer from Greensburg purchased
the restaurant located in that building, demolished it, and then leased
the space to Pitt for $492,678 per
Another example of this administration’s greed, arrogance, destructive tendencies, and oppressive consciousness toward the community occurred at an Oakland Community Council meeting. An 83-year old longtime resident asked a Vice Chancellor, “When will expansion in Oakland end?” The administrator pointed his finger at the resident’s chest and said, “Never.” Imagine if that elderly resident was your father, grandfather, or friend. How would you feel? How would you respond? Would you want to name a building after the Chancellor or would you be saying, “Enough is Enough”?
No one in our community wanted the Chancellor to increase student enrollment, which he has accomplished during his tenure. In fact, Oakland organizations want increased student enrollment to cease. The Chancellor chooses to ignore this.
The new Chancellor must put an end to the University’s never-ending expansion in our community.
2) Funding Must Increase
It is pitiful that Oakland’s five residential organizations receive a mere pittance of the University’s vast fortunes in direct funding. To coin a new word, it is a travesty that is simply “pitthetic.” Our grassroots movement started in 2007 and, once established, we asked Oakland organizations (not including OBID which is a business organization) how much money they received in direct funding from the Chancellor and his administration. The startling combined figure for all five residential organizations was $23,000. There are 27,000 students at the Oakland campus, so the current amount in direct funding is the equivalent of less than one dollar from a student’s tuition fee. This is disgraceful for a Chancellor who wants to compare his University to Columbia, Harvard, Yale, and other such schools.
This amount of direct funding fluctuates yearly, but has hovered around $23,000 for each of the Chancellor’s18 years in office. The Board can verify this. It is doubtful that a year exists when the direct funding to our community exceeded the equivalent of two dollars of a student’s tuition fee.
To put the dismal direct funding figure into perspective, the Chancellor’s $530,000 yearly salary is more than what he has given our residential community during his entire 18 years in office.
The new Chancellor must increase the direct funding to our community per year to match his or her yearly salary.
3) SOUL (South Oakland Urban Litter) Program
The litter and trash problems in Oakland are symbolic of an administrative consciousness that does not respect the community that they impact. These problems are the shame of the University and the burden of longtime residents.
The SOUL program presented to the Chancellor and his administrators is one that will employ 10 youth workers to assist in the effort to keep Oakland’s sidewalks and streets free of litter. These workers will be employed Monday through Friday for four hours per day at the rate of $10 per hour.
When Chancellor Nordenberg took office in 1996, tuition for in-state students at the University was $5,416. During his tenure he increased tuition by $10,706 to the current figure of $16,132, which makes Pitt the most expensive public University in the country.
The Chancellor and his administrators denied our request for funding of the SOUL program, even though the program’s cost is equivalent to only four dollars of a student’s tuition. Incredibly, a Vice Chancellor told us that the University is not responsible for the litter problem and that we should start a Neighborhood Improvement District if we want to resolve the problem.
If the Chancellor did not want to use tuition money, the funding we requested could have come from the hundreds of millions of dollars that are reported as surplus on the University’s tax returns. Unfortunately, not one cent of the $2 billion dollars raised by the Chancellor’s very public capital campaign or the nearly $3 billion dollars in the University’s endowment is available to our community.
We also made a request to resolve the trash problem in our community, which is caused mainly by students and absentee landlords. There are approximately 12,597 faculty and staff employed at the Oakland campus, and since 2008 we have asked the Chancellor to give funding to the city for the salary of one environmental enforcement officer to end this problem. We were refused that request.
The new Chancellor must understand the principle that when you bring students into a community, you are responsible for their actions and the consequences of their actions.
4) Binge Drinking Problems
The University’s official website mentions that 40,000 calls per year are handled by the University police. These calls come from both campus and our residential community. The ever-escalating problem of student binge drinking is a tragic and terrifying situation that Oakland’s longtime residents must face. How can the Chancellor and his administrators repay the longtime residents who have lived far too long under these stressful conditions?
One elderly male resident who had the courage to repeatedly call the police because of late night binge drinking had his car keyed, his tires slashed, feces thrown into his yard, and his dog poisoned. Six elderly widows on that same street are understandably frightened to call the police because of the possible student retaliation. One Oakland organization executive found a student urinating outside his young daughter’s bedroom window. What would you do and how would you feel if your family members or friends were these victims?
We asked the Chancellor and his administrators to help our community by hiring a few individuals to work evening hours, especially during the weekend, to monitor our streets and to call the police when they encounter drinking problems. The Chancellor refused our request.
For years, residents of Semple Street had to endure student rioting, disorderly conduct, and public intoxication in a disgraceful revelry known as Semple Fest. It was a tragic event that occurred yearly during Pitt’s spring semester on the Friday before finals week. Residents of Semple Street made calls to Pitt’s administration, hoping to end this terrifying event, but were ignored. In 2008, there were approximately 1,200 participants. Students burned dumpsters on each end of the street, and the street was littered with thousands of beer cans. There were 73 documented offenders.
At the Board meeting this past June when the Chancellor announced his resignation, he proudly mentioned that he took time to meet with students and address their concerns when there were bomb threats made to the University. He has never visited the residents of Semple Street or made an apology to them for those yearly tragic events. Due to much pressure on the Chancellor and his administration, Semple Fest has finally been ended.
A new Chancellor must show greater caring and compassion to the residents of our community.
5) Lack of transparency
The University’s exemption from the Right-to-Know law must be rescinded. It is an exemption that has shackled the media in receiving information from the University and our community in its freedom. Was it greed that motivated the University to seek that exemption? Was it the fear that other universities would have too much information and place Pitt at a disadvantage in seeking research funds? Would being more transparent reduce the financial stability of the University?
The University has used its exemption to operate in almost complete secrecy. When we wanted to obtain a copy of the invoice from the company that supplies fireworks for Pitt’s Homecoming Week celebration, we were refused with the admonition, “We are exempt from the Right-to-Know law.”
Another injustice to our community is that there are no University email addresses for members of this Board. Each of you has made a profound impact on the people of our community, and yet we cannot communicate with you as we can with other University officials.
On November 3, 2009, we wrote a letter to board Chairman Stephen R. Tritch asking him how our community would benefit by further dormitory expansion on South Bouquet Street, and also requesting that he share the letter with his fellow trustees. The letter was hand-delivered to the Chancellor’s office to ensure delivery to Chairman Tritch. There was no response from the Chairman.
When an article appeared in the February 16, 2012, edition of The Pitt News concerning efforts our grassroots movement has taken to end the injustices in our community, a Pitt spokesman mentioned to the reporter that our accusations against the University were inaccurate and unfair. When we wrote to the spokesman asking him to delineate any unfair and inaccurate accusations, he refused to respond.
The new Chancellor must have a more open administration, both to our community and the media.
6) Culture of Fear Must Cease
There are over 4,000 full-time faculty members employed at the Oakland campus. The solutions we have suggested to the Chancellor and his administrators to resolve the problems in our community are reasonable. Not one faculty member has stepped forward publicly to support any of those solutions.
When we held a “Nordenberg Must Resign” sign in front of the Cathedral of Learning building last October, a friend who recently became a faculty member said, “You cannot talk to me if you are holding that sign.” We respected his fear. When we made public comments in front of the Pittsburgh City Council, an individual in attendance affiliated with the University told us, “I agree with what you said but I would never say it publicly.” A Pitt researcher from China who experienced wrongdoing in her department but was fearful of losing her job if she spoke out said, “There is more academic freedom in China than there is at the University of Pittsburgh.”
The new Chancellor must have the confidence and courage to create an environment whereby faculty and other employees of the University do not have to face the fear of retribution should they speak the truth.
7) Fireworks Danger
The tradition of a massive Homecoming Week fireworks display that takes place in the heart of our community should never have started and now must end. For the majority of Chancellor Mark Nordenberg’s tenure, he and his administrators refused residents the courtesy of notifying them as to when the fireworks display would occur. Many elderly residents were awakened out of a deep sleep, their houses shaking from the firebomb blasts, the noise piercing their ears, and they did not know what was happening. Imagine that scenario if that was happening to your family members, relatives, or friends.
Nearly 80% of the residents on one street, whose homes are only hundreds of feet away from the origin of the fireworks display, signed a petition asking the Chancellor to end the display in their neighborhood. He refused.
The new Chancellor must move the Homecoming Week fireworks display to a venue outside of Oakland.
8) Human Dignity
The issues presented in this letter are about human dignity. The residents in our community deserve to live with dignity in a clean, healthy, and safe environment. To the best of our knowledge, during his 18 years as Chancellor, Mr. Nordenberg has never made the time to meet face-to-face with anyone in our community to discuss the myriad problems we encounter because of the University’s presence. You can verify with him if he has ever made such an effort.
Our first communication with the Chancellor was in a letter to him dated May 12, 1997. The letter brought to his attention an important problem in our community, a solution to that problem, and a request to meet with him. There was no response. Since then, dozens of additional letters and messages have been sent to him without response.
When the University was expanding its dormitories on South Bouquet Street, materials from that site were illegally dumped on a street in our neighborhood, and construction trucks were speeding by on that street on numerous occasions, some of them past midnight. To perform non-emergency work in daytime, nighttime, and past midnight without giving any notice shows a lack of sensitivity, caring, and respect for residents in our neighborhood. A letter was hand-delivered to the Chancellor’s office requesting a letter of apology from him for this wrongdoing. We asked that he publish his letter in The Pitt News to demonstrate to both our community and University students that he has the courage to admit a wrongdoing, and the will to put into practice his principles of responsibility and integrity. The Chancellor chose silence. Is this another example of his deliberate indifference to our community?
The community of Oakland had a thriving residential community long before the University of Pittsburgh had a presence there. These preuniversity residents welcomed the University as if they were welcoming a guest into their home, not realizing that this guest would attempt to become a master of their community.
Why did hundreds of brave Oakland men and women fight and sacrifice during World War II? To decades later watch greedy and self-serving University administrators begin to dominate and decimate their community? Descendants of these brave residents have also had to bear the burden of the University administration's oppressive consciousness.
The new chancellor should bring forth a new consciousness that adheres to the belief that human dignity must be the highest priority of a university.
Carlino Giampolo, Founder, SOUL
Issues mentioned in this letter are in greater detail on this website.
Pitthetic - Noun: a university that negatively impacts the surrounding community; Adjective: pathetic as a direct result of a university's negative influence. This may be a new word in the American vocabulary.
*In the Expansion Must End section, "$492,678 per month" should read "$492,678 per year." - Sept. 29, 2013