University of Pittsburgh

About The Chancellor’s Office

The tenure of Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg, Pitt's 17th chancellor, has been marked by impressive academic and research growth at the University, as well as improved and expanded facilities and Western Pennsylvania’s most successful fundraising campaign ever.

Such vision and leadership are expected of Pitt chancellors. Nordenberg’s predecessors include many distinguished chief executives, including the first chancellor, Robert Bruce, who helped turn what had been a private secondary school into a college; William J. Holland, who added the new schools and graduate programs that created a true university; John G. Bowman, who envisioned the Cathedral of Learning and the growth of the Oakland campus; Edward Litchfield, who spearheaded the University’s rise to national prominence; and Wesley W. Posvar, who began Pitt’s transformation into a university of international stature.

The chief executive of the University of Pittsburgh and its predecessor, the Western University of Pennsylvania, has been called “chancellor” since 1871. Before that, the head of the University was known as the “principal,” but the trustees believed that title was more appropriate for a schoolmaster than the leader of an institute of higher learning. In 1984, during the realignment of several key University functions, the chief executive’s office was renamed “president,” which some people thought sounded more modern. However, in a nod to Pitt’s heritage, the title reverted to the historic name “chancellor” upon Wesley Posvar’s retirement.

The word “chancellor” comes directly from ancient French and Latin words meaning roughly “royal secretary” or “keeper of the royal seal,” and the title is typically given to persons holding high government offices, such as cabinet ministers and heads of state. In North America, the title “chancellor” is more commonly bestowed on chief executive officers of colleges and universities, although in a few states, certain judges are called chancellors.

While directly responsible to the University’s board of trustees, the chancellor also serves as the representative of the students, staff, faculty, and administration to the board. Under a job description drafted by the trustees before Nordenberg’s appointment, the chancellor acts as a public advocate for the institution’s interests and as a leader who sets its goals and governs its progress. The chancellor is expected to foster supportive working relationships with faculty, staff, and students; build close ties to the community and the University’s external constituents; and raise funds to further the University’s missions of education, research, and economic development.

Those who closely advise and assist the chancellor include the provost, the executive vice chancellor, the senior vice chancellor for health sciences, the vice chancellors, the presidents of the regional campuses, the deans of the University’s schools, the department chairs, and the directors of Pitt’s centers and institutes.

Sources: Robert C. Alberts, Pitt: The Story of the University of Pittsburgh, 1787 to 1987; Faculty Handbook; University Fact Book, 2005; University Times, 1994 to 2005; Pitt Chronicle and Pitt Campaign Chronicle, 2001 to 2005; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, various issues; BBC’s A-Z of Parliament; U.K. Department of Constitutional Affairs

Chancellors of the University of Pittsburgh
and the Western University of Pennsylvania

Mark A. Nordenberg, 1995 to present
J. Dennis O’Connor, 1991 to 1995
Wesley W. Posvar, 1967 to 1991
David H. Kurtzman, 1966 to 1967
Stanton C. Crawford, 1965 to 1966
Edward J. Litchfield, 1955 to 1965
Rufus H. Fitzgerald, 1945 to 1955
John G. Bowman, 1921 to 1945
Samuel B. McCormick, 1904 to 1921
John A. Brashear, 1901 to 1904
William J. Holland, 1891 to 1901
Milton B. Goff, 1884 to 1890
Henry M. MacCracken, 1881 to 1884
George Woods, 1858 to 1880
Heman Dyer, 1843 to 1849
Gilbert Morgan, 1835 to 1837
Robert Bruce, 1822 to 1835, 1837 to 1843

Notes: Brashear and Crawford served as acting chancellors; Crawford was named full chancellor posthumously. Western University of Pennsylvania suspended operations in the early 1850s after a disastrous fire destroyed the main building and all of its records and books.

Source: Alberts, op cit; University of Pittsburgh Chancellors, Office of Admissions and Financial Aid, University of Pittsburgh